No Miamians drown in the Straits of Florida paddling south on makeshift rafts. No Major League Baseball players abandon multimillion-dollar salaries to defect to Cuba to play professionally for $40 a month. No workers in Havana send monthly checks to their relatives in Hialeah.
The Tampa Bay Rays play the Cuban National Team on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. in an exhibition game in Latinoamericano Stadium in Havana. Maybe next year the Cuban government permits their baseball team to travel to Tropicana Field in St. Pete to even this up as a home-and-home series. It would save fuel costs for a return trip, after all, and Cuba, like its army of prostitutes, really, really needs the money.
Like every other penitentiary, nobody wants to stay in Cuba, everybody wants to leave, and a few kind souls occasionally visit. Count Major League Baseball among this last group. The league opted to visit the island-prison today. It hopes to curb the messy practice fostered by the embargo of Cuban athletes defecting to third-party nations before pursing the American Dream in favor of a system less nightmarish, and more profitable, for the Cuban tyrants.
Other than early banishments of priests and late boatlifts of prisoners, the Communist government shows little enthusiasm for allowing citizens to freely emigrate. “Castro has tried to prevent people from leaving by sending helicopters to drop sandbags onto the balsas when they are at sea,” Pascal Fontaine informs in The Black Book of Communism. “In the summer of 1994, it is estimated that approximately one-third of all balseros have died while at sea. Over thirty years, approximately 100,000 have attempted the journey. The result of this exodus is that out of 11 million inhabitants, 2 million now live in exile.”
Shortly after Fidel Castro seized power he ordered the executions of more than a thousand people, closed every Catholic school in the country (including the ones that educated him), and offered quizzical questions to serious queries about his pre-revolution promises about democracy: “Elections? What for?” In a short period of time he turned one of the wealthiest countries in the Western Hemisphere into one of the poorest.
Cuban leaders blame the embargo for the poverty of the people. But Communism, the same force that gives satellites the juxtaposition of a pitch-black North Korea next to a South Korea looking like the birthday cake of an octogenarian before the big blow out, impoverishes Cubans in Havana (while their cousins in Miami enjoy exponentially larger paychecks).
President Barack Obama watches Tampa Bay’s team play Cuba’s team today alongside Raul Castro. Hopefully the two men experience an epiphany that what makes the game great remains greatly lacking in Cuba: competition—economic, political, and otherwise.