Here in America, we pride ourselves on our freedoms—you know, the freedom of speech, the freedom to express our political beliefs.
But how free actually are we?
How seriously do we respect these freedoms?
There’s a lot of lip service paid to them, but when someone expresses an unpopular political belief, the price can be high.
Take Ozzie Guillen, the manager of the Miami Marlins.
He dared to tell Time magazine that he loves Fidel Castro and admires his staying power. “I respect Fidel Castro,” he said. “You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that son of a b—— is still here.”
While this view is out of the mainstream in the United States, it is a very popular one throughout Latin America (Guillen was born in Venezuela).
But it’s evidently unsayable in the United States, at least in Miami, where rightwing Cuban-Americans have congregated for decades and have stifled debate.
Showing no appreciation for our First Freedom, the Marlins summarily suspended Guillen without pay for five games. And if the storm doesn’t pass, they may end up firing him.
The rhetoric is over the top, with commentators suggesting that it’s like a manager praising Hitler in New York City. (If I ever hear another bad Hitler analogy, I will have died too late.) For the record, Fidel Castro is not Adolph Hitler. Castro’s human rights record is bad, but he has not massacred millions of people. In fact, his overall record is better than Fulgencio Batista’s, the dictator he overthrew. And it’s better than the records of the Duvaliers in Haiti and the Somozas in Nicaragua, whom the United States also supported, to say nothing of the death-squad government that Washington nourished in El Salvador and the genocidal juntas it aided in Guatemala or the regime of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, which it favored, or the current ultra-right government in Honduras, which Washington blessed, even though it swept into power on the wings of a coup.
In Miami, though, none of this is up for debate. Fidel is the arch-enemy, and there are no two ways about it.
Guillen needlessly stepped into this swamp, but expressing his political views should not be grounds for discipline. He committed no crime. He merely expressed an unpopular view, and the irony is that critics of Castro stress Fidel’s own intolerance of dissent.
Guillen’s suspension has nothing to do with his ability to manage his players, or pick a starting pitcher, or find the best pinch-hitter in a tight situation.
Nothing, in short, to do with his job (unlike Rush Limbaugh, who gets paid for being a sexist, and unlike Marge Schott, former owner of the Cincinnati Reds, who said she didn’t want to hire any more “niggers”).
Going after employees for expressing leftwing views is classic McCarthyism, which amazingly lives on, more than five decades after Tailgunner Joe met his demise and more than five decades after Fidel Castro took power.
Red-baiting is still a dangerous sport in America.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “Adrienne Rich, In Memoriam."
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter