Katrina victims abandoned again

Campaign News | Monday, 27 March 2006

Bush administration are 'thieves' for preventing Cuba's baseball earnings going to help the needy of New Orleans

Havana 27 March: Cuban Parliamentary President Ricardo Alarcon accused the government of President George W. Bush of abandoning Hurricane Katrina victims once again by preventing them from receiving a donation from Cuba.

In statements to Prensa Latina news agency, Alarcon condemned Washington's attempt to prevent US Katrina victims from receiving Cuba's proceeds from the World Baseball Classic.

Cuba's top legislator recalled that the U.S. government failed to prevent Cuba from taking part in the important tournament, as baseball federations from other countries refused to participate if the Island was deliberately excluded.

Washington tried hard to bar Cuba from participating in the 16-nation competition, using the false pretext that the island's team would make money out of the WBC tournament, which contradicts the blockade rules. In response, Cuba made it clear from the start that the island's team had never competed for money and would donate the proceeds to victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

"The Cuban team took part, ranked second, and of course is entitled to a percentage of total winnings, as are also all the other competitors. However, as agreed, Cuba reiterated its decision to donate those funds to victims in the devastated gulf coast area of New Orleans," Alarcón reiterated.

He pointed to the more than one thousand people who are still missing in New Orleans. "In a clear example of what imperialist dictatorship is all about; the New Orleans victims, instead of getting White House support to find their missing relatives, were first denied Cuba's offer of health assistance and now the much needed resources donated by Havana," he stressed.

"Cuba holds the US government as thieves," said Alarcón and continued, "they steal from us, and they steal from poor Katrina victims in their own land," he stressed.

(From Radio Habana Cuba)


Dirty game in Miami over baseball cash

Editorial from Granma daily newspaper Havana 24 March, 2006

IN its on-line edition last night (Thursday) and its printed edition today, the U.S. newspaper El Nuevo Herald published an insidious article titled "U.S. and Cuba clash over World Classic earnings," which, citing a so-called spokesman for baseball’s Major Leagues, attempts to ignore Cuba’s decision to donate to the victims of Hurricane Katrina earnings that legitimately should go to our country for having won second place in the tournament, which would not be handed over to Cuba by virtue of the criminal and shameful laws of the blockade.

As our people and public opinion know, our baseball players’ noble gesture of solidarity in handing over the Classic prize money to those affected by Katrina was not a new decision announced by President Fidel Castro on Tuesday when he welcomed home our glorious baseball team. On December 14, the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) sent a communiqué to the organizers of the World Classic stating that, in the face of the U.S. Treasury Department’s refusal to authorize Cuba’s presence in the event using the argument that our country could not receive earnings because it would go against the irrational Plan Bush for Cuba, it had been decided to donate any earnings corresponding to Cuba to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The letter from the Cuban Baseball Federation stated: "It is not the money that OFAC puts forward as the reason for our interest in competing. We are the federation of a poor but dignified country. Our only purpose is to cooperate so that baseball continues to develop and so that in the near future it will be re- included in the Olympic Program. We have never competed for money.

"With the intention of providing options, the Cuban Baseball Federation would be willing for any money that belongs to it from participating in the Classic to go to:

"- Victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans."

Although we are aware of the intentions and interests behind the Miami newspaper, we do not know the level of representation of Mr. Patrick Courtney, the self-titled spokesman for the Major Leagues, whom we know had no participation in the intense and serious negotiations that the Cuban Baseball Federation sustained in recent months with the organizers of the World Classic, and which finally facilitated our team’s successful participation in the extremely challenging sports event.

In a letter sent December 16 to the FCB, Mr. Paul Archey, vice president of the Major Leagues and the event’s main organizer, said, "We appreciate your offer to allocate any earnings generated by the Cuban Baseball Federation’s participation in the World Classic to the benefit of victims of Hurricane Katrina." He also stated that, based on Cuba’s proposal, a new application would be made to the State Department for a license allowing our national team’s presence in the tournament.

In late January of 2006, the U.S. government saw itself obliged to authorize Cuba’s participation in the Classic in face of the convincing proposal for a solution presented by the Cuban Baseball Federation and the broad international reaction against the cynical goal of excluding our nation from the event.

That is when the complicated preparatory process to guarantee the presence of our baseball players in the Classic was rapidly initiated, a process that included the signing of agreements between the Cuban Baseball Federation, the players and the event’s organizers.

On February 15, in a letter addressed to the Cuban Baseball Federation’s president, Mr. Paul Archey, vice president of the Major Leagues, stated: "Responding to the additional points that you have raised with us with respect to the Federation’s concerns around your participation in World Baseball Classic, we have sought the counsel of the United States State Department. After consultations held with the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the State Department has authorized us to make the following commitments in a collateral letter with a mandatory effect:

- Within a period of 120 days after the tournament’s conclusion, the WBCI will send all the participating federations a balance of account of the disposition of any cash prizes and any non-assigned net income. Said account balance will include documents certifying that the WBCI has donated all of those funds to internationally-known charity organizations such as the American Red Cross and the Katrina Fund."

To whom do the non-assigned funds correspond if not to the Cuban Federation, prevented from having access to them because of the absurd and criminal blockade? What do the State Department and the Classic’s organizers have to say about this agreement approved with the Cuban Federation? Who is lying?

While this new, anti-Cuba dirty game is being carried out from Miami, the victims of Hurricane Katrina continue to suffer government neglect and the disastrous consequences of being displaced in other states throughout the country.

Cuba reiterates its solidarity with them and its disposition to give them the prize money legitimately won on the playing field by our athletes, radiating courage, discipline and respect for the Puerto Rican and U.S. American publics who cheered them on in the stadiums. The Cuban team’s visit to the areas where the Major League organization is building housing for Katrina’s victims reflected the sense of solidarity and the humane magnanimity of our ballplayers and their support for the Cuban Baseball Federation’s decision.

The manipulators and the faint-hearted might choose to ignore Cuba’s honorable gesture; but not the peoples.


Cuba to give world baseball prize money to Katrina victims

HAVANA 21 March - Cuba gave its baseball team a hero's welcome on Tuesday and said the runner-up prize money from the World Baseball Classic would go to victims of Hurricane Katrina in the United States.

Even though they lost 10-6 to Japan in the final of the WBC in San Diego on Monday, the amateur Cuban players were received as champions for getting so far in a tournament organized by professional baseball.

Cheering school children and workers lined streets waving Cuban flags and shouting "Viva Cuba!" as the players rode into Havana in a motorcade of open Soviet-era military jeeps.

President Fidel Castro relished the moment as a triumph over his bitter enemy, the U.S. government, which had tried to prevent Cuba from playing in the 16-nation tourney, citing four-decade-old sanctions against Havana.

The Bush administration reversed that decision under pressure from the baseball world and after Cuba vowed not to take home any prize money. As runner-up, Cuba is entitled to 7 percent of the net revenue of the tournament.

"Whatever we get will be used there for the martyrs of Katrina, be it one million (dollars), two, three or four," Castro said in a speech.

"The money will go there without any doubt and with great satisfaction, because it will heighten the moral of our athletes."

Castro, 79, spoke at a welcoming ceremony for the team at an indoor stadium packed with young athletes where speakers hailed the "champions" for upholding "revolutionary sport."

The players were praised for returning home and not deserting to the Major Leagues, lured by big money.

Baseball, brought to Cuba by American sailors in the 19th century, is a national passion on the Caribbean island.

Professional sport was eliminated when Castro steered the country toward communism after his 1959 revolution.

Despite desertions of top players to the Major Leagues, Cuba has dominated Olympic baseball in recent years. But the World Baseball Classic, organized by the Major Leagues, was a chance to measure up to professional baseball.

The reigning Olympic champions almost didn't make the event after Washington initially denied a Major League Baseball request for a license for Cuba to play in the United States.

But even the U.S. government set aside politics for a moment and praised the homecoming Cuban team.

An electronic billboard that usually flashes criticism of Cuba from the front of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana congratulated the players for their sterling effort in the baseball tournament.


Cuba loses World Baseball Classic final but still makes big statement

SAN DIEGO March 20: The Cubans weren't expected to make the final of the World Baseball Classic, though losses on an international stage are rare for the Caribbean nation's team. And they almost never came at all because of Cuba's touchy political relationship with the United States.

While Japan won Monday night's championship game 10-6, the fact that Cuba made it so far showed fans back home that this team could compete against rosters loaded with major leaguers.

They survived in the inaugural 16-team tournament when the talented teams from the Dominican Republic and United States, both filled with All-Stars, could not. Cuba made it farther than three of New York Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner's superstar multimillionaires including Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.

It was quite a tournament for Cuba, which has reached 37 straight title games in major international events and won 22 of its last 25 games. But the Cubans, who consider themselves amateurs despite their star status on the streets of Havana, couldn't add the Classic to their long list of accolades that includes last year's World Cup title, the 2004 Olympic gold medal and the championship of the 2003 Pan American Games in Santo Domingo.

Still, it was such an honor for them to take part that Cuban officials have hinted they would like to be considered to host for the next WBC three years from now.

As the game wore on Monday night, Cuba staged a final rally in the eighth. Frederich Cepeda delivered a two-run homer off Japan reliever Shunsuke Watanabe to pull the Cubans to 6-5, and their spirited fans - many draped in the country's flag and clanging cowbells - who had packed Petco Park kept chanting "Cuba! Cuba!"

But Japan and its effective small-ball style exposed every weakness in a Cuban pitching staff that had been near perfect in its previous seven WBC games. Cuba's deep staff looked hittable again, two days after Yadel Marti and Pedro Lazo shut down the Dominicans in the semifinals.

The pitchers, and all of Cuba's players for that matter, sacrificed their stardom to participate in this special event even if it was in a more limited role than they might have liked. Most members of the pitching staff are starters back home, accustomed to working deep into games.

Cepeda may have said it best when he described what this run meant in his country.

"If we could win, that would be the greatest victory that would have been expected in Cuban baseball," he said. "The world has been waiting for this day playing against the major leaguers."

And Cuba made the most of it.


Cubans celebrate win over Dominican Republic and place in Baseball Classic final

HAVANA 18 March: Shouting "Long Live Cuba!" and forming conga lines, Cuban baseball fans rushed into the streets Saturday to celebrate their team's 3-1 victory over the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic semifinals.

Some ecstatic fans waved red, white and blue Cuban flags. Others beat pots and pans while dancing the conga outside their homes after their national team earned a spot in the final on Monday.

Huge roars of delight echoed into the streets from bars where people watched the game on state television, which carried the ESPN signal live across the island of 11.2 million.

The few cars still on the streets when the game ended honked their horns, and Cuban flags fluttered out of the windows of a few.

"The gold's coming here!" fan Fernando Luis shouted out into the street after watching the game on a television set up on an apartment terrace.

"I am so emotional," Ines Padilla, mother of Cuban center fielder Carlos Tabares, said after watching the game at the family's Havana home. "I bless my son and I tell you that his late father is with him."

Many of Cuba's other well-known athletes were celebrating as well.

"Yes, I do think we will win the Classic," said retired high jumper Javier Sotomayor, a world record holder and Olympic champion. "But it will be harder for them now because they will be more relaxed and have tremendous confidence."

Earlier in the day, Cuban state media reported that President Fidel Castro - himself a big baseball fan - had sent congratulations to the national team in San Diego for having reached the semifinals.


US is out of world baseball classic

ANAHEIM March 16 - Mexico shocked the U.S. 2-1 in the final pool game of the World Baseball Classic on Thursday, ending American title hopes at the 16-nation event while handing Japan a ticket to the last four.

The loss is also likely to send pitching legend Roger Clemens into retirement on a losing note.

Defeat was a massive blow to the nation who invented the game, produces most of the world's top players and considers the sport their national pastime.

The semi-finals, scheduled for Saturday in San Diego, will feature Asian and Caribbean nations that have embraced the sport with Cuba taking on the Dominican Republic and South Korea facing Japan.

"This is for Mexico," said Jorge Cantu, who drove in a pair of runs. "So everyone in our country can know what we are doing here, so we can leave with our heads held high.

"This is definitely a message that we have talent ... proof of that is this evening."

With only the slimmest of chances of advancing, Mexico reveled in the role of spoilers as they defused the much-vaunted U.S. attack holding U.S. batters to just three hits.

The formidable line-up of future Hall of Famers and all-stars never found their form in the 16-nation competition, finishing a tournament they were expected to dominate with a 3-3 record.

"You never prepare for defeat and this is a disappointing loss for sure," U.S. manager Buck Martinez said. "I couldn't be more proud of the way these guys have gone about there business.

"There was a lot said about Team USA not taking this serious but I can guarantee you there are a lot of guys hurting down there in the clubhouse right now.

"We just never got into the groove with the bats."


Cuba defeats Puerto Rico to reach WBC semifinals

San Juan 15 March - Cuba had Puerto Rico seeing red all night. Part of it was the swagger, with pitcher Adiel Palma baffling hitters with his changeup then taunting them after they had swung and missed. Part of it was frustration with their own performance, which a hit batter with the bases loaded and a two-run throwing error.

But mostly it was the traditional all-red uniform Cuba has worn in most of its international tournament victories but which, until Wednesday, had stayed in the closet.

And mostly it was successful as The Big Red Machine knocked the host team out of the World Baseball Classic with a 4-3 win that sends Cuba into a semifinal game Saturday in San Diego against the Dominican Republic.

"This wasn't a gift. We won this," Cuban manager Higinio Velez said. "The Cuban team simply had to come and show the quality of Cuban baseball."

How Cuba, amateur baseball's dominant power for more than three decades, would match up to major league All-Stars was one of the most compelling story lines entering the tournament. And one that almost never got a chance to play out when the U.S. Treasury Department refused to grant tournament organizers a license to let Cuba compete.

Five weeks later, it reversed itself and allowed the Cubans to come. And now they're a victory away from the title game, having beaten teams from Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Panama laden by big-league stars.

"We left Cuba being amateurs and from the night to morning, we're pros," catcher Ariel Pestano said.

But Wednesday's victory was hardly the kind of cakewalk they're used to international play. Puerto Rico had at least one man on in every inning but in the ninth, but stranded runners on second and third in the fourth, fifth and eighth innings and had the tying run thrown out at the plate to end the seventh.

That Cuba was taking this game seriously was evident from the first pitch - which took place with two Cuban relievers already warming up in the bullpen.

And that the result would be different from its first meeting with Puerto Rico - a 12-2 loss - was also obvious early as its hitters waited out right-hander Dicky Gonzalez in a three-walk, 31-pitch first half-inning that that ended with Cuba leading 1-0.

The home team needed just five pitches to get that run back, though, with Bernie Williams leading off the bottom of the first with his second home run of the WBC.

Cuba went in front to stay in the fourth, scoring three times on two singles, a walk, a hit batter and a two-base, two-out throwing error by shortstop Alex Cintron that gave Cuba a 4-1 lead.

A few innings later Cuba was seeing red itself when a pair of close calls went Puerto Rico's way.

In the first instance, second base umpire James Hoye ruled that shortstop Eduardo Paret was off the base on an attempted force play at second, costing Cuban an out and giving Puerto Rico a seventh-inning run.

Replays showed Hoye's call was correct but that didn't placate manager Higinio Velez, who was ejected after a five-minute argument.

An inning later Puerto Rico loaded the bases with one out after first base umpire Rob Drake ruled that Cuba's Joan Pedroso mishandled a low throw - a call replays also showed was correct. That call didn't cost Cuba, though, since Alex Cintron followed by grounding into an inning-ending double play, one of three the Cubans turned.

That was as close as Puerto Rico would get, however, as Vicyohandri Odelin pitched a perfect ninth, striking out Pudge Rodriguez to end it.

Whether Cuba can play with pros is clearly no longer a question. And, if you ask Velez, the reason is no mystery either.

"They're not interested in millions," Velez said. "We don't have prisoners. Simply, our athletes are besieged because people want to turn them into merchandise, but they want to play for their country."


World Baseball Classic: Cuba... Yes, we can do it!

BY SIGFREDO BARROS-Granma daily special correspondent-

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Cuba's baseball team has demonstrated that it can go head-to-head with a team of Major League players by beating Venezuela’s super-strong selection, taking that victory in the opening of the second round of the first World Baseball Classic.

It was logical that many experts saw the South American team as the favorite in this game, with a conglomeration of stars in its line-up, the presence of a left-hander like Johan Santana on the mound, and the hefty score racked up by Puerto Rico against the Cubans in the game on Friday.

But, just as manager Higinio Vélez said before the game - what happened against the Puerto Ricans could happen to any team, the slate is clean - the Cuban team went out onto the field without any complexes and with their characteristic fighting spirit, and fought for every out, inning by inning, until they achieved a victory that could be called historical.

From Saturday night, the coaching team’s decision was to give the ball over to Yadel Martí, a very resourceful pitcher, whose strategy was to work with borderline throws and to be extra careful with homerun-hitters like Bobby Abréu, Miguel Cabrera and Víctor Martínez, none of whom had a hit for the entire game.

Santana - considered to be the American League’s best left-hander, with 238 strikeouts last season - has a 96-mph fastball, an 88-mph slider, and a deadly 81-mph change-up. But two of the Cuban team’s rookies, Yoandy Garlobo and Ariel Borrero, were not impressed, and brought in the runs that marked his second defeat in the competition, first with a line drive along right field, and the second with a hit to left field.

Yadel pitched masterfully, to the extreme of allowing no hits for four innings, leaving three men with their bats in the air (he struck out No. 4 batter Miguel Cabrera twice), and allowing three walks, not because of lack of control, but to prevent any big hits.

With the fifth inning, the Venezuelans hit two consecutive singles - by Magglio Ordóñez y Ramón Hernández, the second with the right-hander’s 71st throw, 42 of them through the strike zone. Higinio then appealed to Lazo, who made the situation even more complicated by not being able to get an out on any base with Edgardo Alfonso’s bunt.

But the giant from Pinar del Río is made for tricky situations. He worked his arm to the limit to take care of business, landing the first two outs with fly balls to Cepeda’s glove, and the last one by paralyzing Carlos Guillén with a 97-mph fastball.

That raised the team’s spirits even more. And with Santana’s replacement (67 throws), relief pitcher Giovanni Carrara - one of the best in his league - entered the game. But he will remember that inning for all of his life, given that a little bit of everything happened: from a ground ball that escaped the hands of Golden Glover Omar Vizquel and went into his shirt; to a homer by Frederich Cepeda that went zooming through right field, and surely had all of Cuba on the edge of their seats.

Not much more would have been needed. But the Cubans went out onto Hiram Bithorn’s field yesterday ready to wipe out the image of their game against Puerto Rico. And, so as not to leave any doubt, Pestano came out of his slump with his second hit of the afternoon, a slammer similar to that by the outfielder from Sancti Spíritus; later on, in the eighth, Paret, Michel and Urrutia hit singles that racked up an unnecessary coup de grace.

Lazo took care of the rest, taking out seven of the last eight batters he faced, and permitting a homerun by No. 9 batter Endy Chávez.

It’s a victory that opens the possibility of classifying in this difficult group, a veritable “Caribbean Series,” as all of the Latin American journalists here are saying.


Cuba goes through but protests mar baseball triumph

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, March 9 - Cuba's national baseball team, the reigning Olympic champions, strong-armed their way to a second straight win Thursday in Pool C competition of the inaugural World Baseball Classic.

Cuba, playing its first tournament against Major League all-stars, cruised to an 11-2 victory over the Netherlands at San Juan's Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

The win ensured a berth for Cuba, which squeaked past Panama Wednesday, into the second round of a tournament overshadowed by speculation about possible defections of prized athletes from the communist-ruled island.

The Cubans refused to attend the customary post-game news conference after Thursday's win, and even threatened to pull out of the Classic altogether, according to one high-ranking Puerto Rican security official.

Their rage was triggered by at least one protester against Cuban President Fidel Castro who brandished a placard that read "Down Fidel" in the stands, just behind homeplate, in the final innings of the ballgane.

"What happened was a provocation by a group of five counterrevolutionary characters who aggravated our delegation with signs and words that were offensive to us, violating the established rules of the organizing committee," said one offical close to the Cuban delegation.

"The police, far from fixing the situation, opted to support the protesters," he said.

A group of about 80 anti-Castro protesters staged a demonstration outside the stadium here on Wednesday, but politically-charged ballplay had been kept to a minimum otherwise before Thursday's camera-ready bit of grandstanding.

Yoandry Garlobo had four hits, including a homerun, to go with five RBIs to lead Cuba on Thursday night, while team mate Osmany Urrutia hit a three-RBI homerun in the sixth inning that sealed the win.


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