FIU terminates Cuban baseball game amid controversy

What started as a way to reunite former baseball players turned into a controversial battle.

Somos Cuba, the entity formed to bring veteran Cuban players from Los Industriales to Miami to celebrate 50 years of the team, was denied a stadium to play in after FIU backed down from a signed lease with the group.

 A lease was signed between Somos Cuba director Alejandro Canton and Heath Glick, Chief of Staff of Athletics, on July 10.

On Monday, July 15, Martin De Jesus of the FIU athletic department asked Canton for a list of players. Executive Director of Sports and Entertainment Pete Garcia received the list and had it sent to Joseph Corey, Director of Athletic Operations, and then to Sandra Gonzalez-Levy, Senior Vice President of External Relations.

Several hours later , FIU’s general counsel Kristina Raattama directed the termination of the lease, “Go ahead and send the termination notice.”

According to Glick, in the termination letter sent to Canton, he stated due to “Pursuant to Section Q of the premises of the Use Agreement, FIU is exercising its right to cancel the event scheduled for Aug. 10 and 11, 2013.”

Section Q of the Use Agreement with Canton stated that FIU had the right to cancel the Agreement at any time if they determined that the event was “not in the best interest of FIU due to circumstances beyond FIU’s reasonable control.”

Players included Juan Padilla and Javier Mendez, who were involved in a dispute in 1999 at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada. An anti-Castro protester stormed the field carrying a “Human Rights First” sign during a semifinal game between Cuba and Canada, before being stopped by Padilla, according to a 1999 story in CNN Sports Illustrated.

On July 23, Miguel Saavedra of Vigilia Mambisa, made a statement at a press conference that the cancellation of the game was a great victory.

“We never thought that FIU would lend itself to this, but we spoke with them. There was a meeting and we were able to arrive at a certain type of idea about what they could do,” Saavedra said in the press conference.

None of the public records that have been produced by FIU show directly that FIU terminated the lease due to pressure from Vigilia Mambisa, Miguel Saavedra or other anti-Castro protestors, but records also do not show the reason that the lease was terminated, other than that FIU was exercising its termination rights under the lease and that FIU entered into the lease on Wednesday, July 10 and terminated it on Monday, July 15.

Only weeks later did FIU say that it noticed after the lease had been signed that Canton had not paid the fee required for the lease, that its free speech policy prohibited use of the athletic facilities for expression and that state law might prohibit the lease because the players would be returning to Cuba.

After constant requests from the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida to retrieve answers behind the termination of the lease, FIU hired attorney Rick Ovelmen.

A letter from Ovelmen, given to defense attorney Tom Julin, working with the ACLU and given to Student Media, stated that “FIU staff members treated the game as if it were simply a baseball contest organized by Somos Cuba for commercial purposes.”

The letter went on to say, “When University leaders became aware, after the execution of the agreement, that in fact Somos Cuba’s purpose was to use the baseball stadium for an act of symbolic speech to advocate a political message, the University leadership understandably grew concerned.”

When speaking with Student Media, Julin addressed the National Anthem played at several sporting events and the message it conveys on a daily basis.

“It’s very disingenuous for FIU to be saying that they had to terminate this lease because of the political message that the game was going to convey,” Julin said, in an interview with Student Media. “If you regard it as conveying a message, it was really conveying no more of a political message than every other baseball game conveys. Or if you don’t regard it as conveying a political message at all, there was no basis to terminate the lease for that basis either.”

It is still possible that the lease was terminated for reasons that didn’t violate the First Amendment, but rather for nonpayment and to adhere to its free speech policy. Termination would violate the First Amendment, however, if the University terminated the lease to placate anti-Castro protesters who wanted to quiet the message that the game would convey, or because the University couldn’t decide what message the game might convey.

“I hope that the truth does come out and that it comes out soon,” Julin said. “If the truth is that First Amendment rights were violated, I hope that FIU would acknowledge that and would apologize to Mr. Canton and would compensate him for any losses that he has suffered by having to move the game to Fort Lauderdale.”

The game was later played at Fort Lauderdale Stadium Saturday, Aug. 31.

Neither Garcia nor Glick were available for an interview per request by Student Media.

About the Author

Patrick Chalvire
: Radio Host for Panther Sports Talk Live. Assistant Sports Director for The Beacon. Majoring in Communication Arts. Sports fan and aspiring anchor.

1 Comment on "FIU terminates Cuban baseball game amid controversy"

  1. Back in 1950 City of Ft. Lauderdale knew about Communism.

    http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2206&dat=19500808&id=psY0AAAAIBAJ&sjid=xOsFAAAAIBAJ&pg=3866%2C3425896

    Remember all the suffering of the Cuban people for more than five decades. The people killed, the imprisoned, the blows to white ladies every Sunday, the Panama ship full of weapons and counterfeit money, the cholera and dengue without medical help. If all the above has not forgotten, please help Vigilia Mambisa demonstrating tomorrow at the Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, the city that says is the Venice of America, will be the indolent in Broward by given permission to these representatives of the Cuban tyranny Industriales baseball team, to commemorate slaves games for 50 years after they eliminated the true sportsmen clubs: Havana, Almendares, Cinfuegos and Marianao.

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