The Miami Marlins suspended their new manager, Ozzie Guillen, for five games following remarks he made about Fidel Castro that have angered members of Miami’s Cuban-American community.
Guillen apologized for his remarks at a Tuesday, April 10, press conference and promised to make amends. “I’m very sorry about the problem, what happened,” he said. “I will do everything in my power to make it better … I know it’s going to be a very bumpy ride.”
Guillen, who has long had a reputation in baseball for freewheeling comments, came under fire after TIME published quotes from an interview with him in its April 9, 2012, issue. In the story, he is quoted as saying “I love Fidel Castro.”
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According to the TIME story, Guillen then amended his comment somewhat: “After a second of reflection, the most unfiltered figure in baseball, if not sports, wants a do-over. ‘I respect Fidel Castro,’ says Guillen, a Venezuela native who also says he respects Hugo Chávez. ‘You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that mother—— is still here.’ ”
The Castro remarks drew notice among Miami’s Cuban-American population. With Havana located just 228 miles (367 km) from Miami, many Floridians harbor negative views of Cuba’s communist leader. At least two Miami city administrators have called for Guillen to be fired from his post atop the city’s sports team.
“Mr. Guillen’s admiration for a dictator who has destroyed the lives of so many and who has violated the basic human rights of millions is shameful,” Francis Suarez, chairman of the Miami city commission, said in a statement prior to the suspension. “On behalf of many angry residents, I’m calling for real action to be taken and for the removal of Mr. Guillen.”
The Marlins, just five games into a new season of baseball in which the team is keen to showcase newly signed stars like Jose Reyes along with a brand-new stadium, sought to defuse the growing criticism. The team issued a statement saying it considers Castro “a brutal dictator who has caused unthinkable pain for more than 50 years.” It also announced Guillen’s suspension without pay.
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Speaking Tuesday, Guillen offered an apology to “Cuban people and to all of America.” He also suggested that he had not expressed himself as clearly as he wished in the TIME interview. “I don’t want to make excuses,” he said. “But I meant that I was surprised Fidel Castro stayed in power so long. That’s what was missing in the translation … I’m not saying the journalist was wrong. I was wrong. I was thinking in Spanish, and I said it wrong in English.”
A spokesperson for TIME later released this statement: “TIME’s interview with Ozzie Guillen was conducted entirely in English. We stand by our story.”
Guillen’s recent comments weren’t the first time he was quoted as praising the Cuban leader. A 2008 Men’s Journal article asked him, “Who’s the toughest man you know?” Guillen’s response, according to the magazine: “Fidel Castro. He’s a bulls— dictator and everybody’s against him, and he still survives, has power. Still has a country behind him. Everywhere he goes they roll out the red carpet. I don’t admire his philosophy. I admire him.”
Following the publication of TIME’s article, Guillen apologized over the weekend, but criticism continued to build in Miami prior to the suspension announcement. Speaking today, he called his remarks “the biggest mistake I’ve made so far in my life,” adding, “When you’re a sportsman, you shouldn’t be involved with politics.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.