“We are the opposition,” a man shouted live in Spanish on ESPN, interrupting a broadcast by reporter Bob Ley on the then-upcoming MLB-Cuba baseball game attended by President Barack Obama shortly thereafter.
In a rapidly unfolding and dramatic series of events, Ley stepped aside to allow a Cuban dissident to address the camera. “We are demanding the freedom of political prisoners,” he shouted, throwing pamphlets in the air. “Abajo los Castro!” [“Down with the Castros”], he shouted.
Seconds later, ESPN filmed the man and another participating in the protest off-camera violently shoved into police cars.
“What was amazing was the speed of the police response,” Ley told ESPN viewers as the cameras showed police attacking the protesters. “There were three marked cars that came literally out of nowhere.”
Ley posted an image of the pamphlets the protester, who has yet to be identified by any media at press time, on Twitter. The pamphlet identifies the protester as a member of a group called the Forum for Rights and Liberties and makes specific demands for freedom in Cuba:
Front of the pamphlet thrown by protesters at out Havana live shot. Everyone ok down here. pic.twitter.com/1qVfPvT82V
— Bob Ley (@BobLeyESPN) March 22, 2016
The pamphlet reads:
Forum for Rights and Liberties
Demands by the Forum for Rights and Liberties (roadmap)
Immediate liberation and annulation of sentences for all political prisoners (amnesty decree)
On the Constitution, laws, regulations, procedures, and administrative practices: derogation of all those articles that threaten UN International Human Rights Pacts and relate to freedom of expression, association, distribution, assembly, movement, conscience, and religion, and economic and cultural [ones]. Establish plainly guarantees for the exercise of theses freedoms.
On the penal code: elimination of “preferred dangerousness,” as well as all norms that may contribute to arbitrary detentions or isolations and acts of aggression.
Reestablishment of judicial guarantees of constitutional rank and the right of due process.
New assembly laws that include the legalization of political parties, independent syndicates and guarantees for the freedom of assembly. Regarding these rights we must take into account norms established by the ILO [International Labor Organization].
New law regarding media and communications that guarantees the right to expression and free flow of information.
New electoral law that guarantees free and pluralistic elections (the restoration of national sovereignty).
The Forum for Rights and Liberties identifies itself on its website as a group “uniting diverse opposition organizations, independent journalists, artists, and activists … with a seven-point roadmap with specific propositions to take steps toward a democratic system.” The group also organizes “civil actions with the goal of the use of public space to demand our rights.”
The forum is run by three prominent dissidents: Berta Soler, Jorge Luis García (Antúnez), and Antonio G. Rodiles.
Soler, who runs the Ladies in White dissident group, and Rodiles, who runs the Estado de SATS group, met with President Obama before the MLB game on Tuesday. Both were arrested on Sunday before President Obama landed on the island in a wave of repression caught on the cameras of international media arriving for the trip. Soler is frequently arrested and beaten on Sundays with her group after attending Catholic Mass, though she is never charged with a crime.
The MLB-Cuba baseball game has turned ESPN into an unlikely focal point of anti-communist dissent. In a column this week, Cuban-American sports journalist Dan Le Batard described President Obama’s presence on the island and the jubilant attitude towards the baseball game as being “like watching a funeral morph into a party.” Writing in an ESPN column, he said, “The history of my own people feels like it is being either ignored or trampled, and I’m not quite sure which of those feels worse.”
On his program, Highly Questionable, on Tuesday, Le Batard gave his co-host and father Gonzalo a moment to reflect on the events unfolding in Cuba. The elder Le Batard, a Cuban refugee, declined to give a message to the Cuban people:
Not to the Cuban people, no, to the political dissidents of Cuba. … These are the real heroes on that island that has been killed by communism and Castro’s thugs. … They go out and they march peacefully in the street and they are attacked by the secret service. … They live in hell.
“I hope that something good comes out of it, but I doubt it very much,” he said of President Obama’s trip to Cuba.