(CBS) Ozzie Guillen may be managing a new ball club, but some things never change.
Guillen is under fire for comments made regarding Fidel Castro, the Cuban dictator who has ruled Cuba for more than 5o years.
In an interview with Time Magazine, Guillen said: “I love Fidel Castro … I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that (expletive) is still there.”
As CBS 2’s Jim Williams reports, that statement did not go over well at all with many Cuban Americans living in Florida.
In Chicago, when Ozzie Guillen stepped in it by saying something controversial, people usually just said it was “Ozzie being Ozzie.” But saying you “love Fidel Castro” in South Florida is sure to create a firestorm.
Many Cubans fled their homeland to Florida after losing everything under the Castro regime, while some of their family members continued to suffer in Cuba. In the wake of Guillen’s comments, many Cuban American groups have threatened to boycott the Marlins until Guillen is fired.
For eight seasons as the White Sox manager, Guillen was colorful. His profanity-laced rants made for good copy in the papers and good sound on sports radio and TV.
It was supposed to be the same in Miami, but less than one week into the season, Guillen’s comments about Castro touched the third rail of controversy, touching a raw nerve in the Cuban American community.
After a whirlwind of criticism, Guillen issued a statement apologizing for his comments:
“I will apologize if I hurt somebody’s feelings, or I hurt somebody’s thought. I want them to know I’m against everything 100 percent — I repeat it again — the way this man (been) treating people for the last 60 years. The reason I say I admire him is because a lot of people want to get rid of this guy and they couldn’t yet. That was personal, not politics. If you don’t read the article, it sounds ugly. The first time I read it I was like, ‘Wow, that’s going to get me in trouble.’ I understand that. I’m not hiding from anybody, especially people in Miami.”
DePaul University history professor Felix Masud-Piloto, said praising Castro was “definitely” the worst thing Guillen could have said, as far as Cuban Americans are concerned.
Masud-Piloto understands the sensitivity well.
“A lot of people lost property. A lot of people had a relative executed, or imprisoned for a long time,” he said.
Guillen often refuses to back down in face of controversy, but he has apologized for saying he loves Castro and is planning to fly back to Miami on the team’s off-day on Tuesday to discuss the controversy in person.
“I feel sad and a couple of days … you know, something in my stomach; not because of what I did, it’s just because I know I hurt a lot of people, and I’m going to make it clear – especially for me.”
The Marlins were in Philadelphia Monday, but Guillen is flying back to Miami Tuesday to hold a news conference, where he’ll attempt to apologize again and further explain his comments.
Still, some Cuban-American groups want him fired.
Masud-Piloto said “I have no idea” if an apology will be enough to quell the calls for Guillen to be fired.
“You need to remember that, in Miami, Cuba is an obsession and obsessions are irrational,” he said.
The Marlins thought they hit a home run in hiring Guillen, a World Series-winning manager and a native of Venezuela. Miami has a large Hispanic population and just opened a brand new stadium. Instead, Guillen is proving to be a PR disaster so far.
The Marlins put out a statement, saying “There is nothing to respect about Fidel Castro. He is a brutal dictator who has caused unthinkable pain for more than 50 years. We live in a community filled with victims of this dictatorship, and the people in Cuba continue to suffer today.”