Love and loathing in Latin America’s second capital (it’s Miami)

Last week, Miami Marlins’ manager Ozzie Guillén told Time magazine that he “loves” Fidel Castro, and saluted the elderly leader for his many successes at avoiding assassination. “I respect Fidel,” Guillén said. “That son-of-a-bitch is still here.” This unleashed a supposedly deafening outcry in south Florida, prompting the Marlins to suspend Ozzie for five games, and eliciting a public, very emotional mea culpa from the loud-mouthed manager to the community that he now calls home.

Right-wing bloggers in Miami are calling the public fury over Guillén’s comments evidence that the conservative Cuban-American community in Latin America’s “second capital” is as loud and strong as ever. But talk of the incident on social media indicated that this infamous constituency is, as we’ve known for a while, not the only one in Miami that cares about Cuba-related issues.

Late last week I conducted an informal content analysis of tweets posted from April 11-14 that contained references to Guillén (with and without hashtag #OzzieGuillen), in both Spanish and English. While there were plenty of tweets that berated Ozzie for being insensitive to Cuban exiles, or mockingly suggested that he probably thinks Adolph Hitler was “the best,” the majority of Guillén-related tweets took a different tone. A few people joked that, thanks to Guillén, George Zimmerman had been demoted to “second most wanted man in Florida.” Most users either forgave him for being a loose cannon, or shook a finger at the Marlins for undermining Ozzie’s right to free speech. Many called the move hypocritical. Cuba-American Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero (@ArmandoSalguero) tweeted:

RE: Ozzie Guillen saying he loves or respects Fidel Castro, my folks brought me to U.S. so I’d could speak my mind. Others get same right.

There was not quite the groundswell around the “boycott the Marlins” or “fuera Ozzie” sentiment on which the mainstream press so dutifully reported.

On YouTube, videos of an anti-Ozzie demonstration outside of Marlins’ stadium show a group of about a hundred people milling around with “Fuera Ozzie” signs and occasionally shouting the same. At one moment, they come together and begin shouting “boycott” as fifteen or twenty cameramen document the scene. Most of the people in the video are retirement age—there is one prominent woman who appears to be in her thirties, but the group otherwise supports the notion that Miami’s conservative exile community is getting old, and that younger generations are not joining the ranks of what I have come to think of as the “old” guard.

I see no connection between Guillén’s politics and his formidable ability to manage a baseball team. Guillén has obviously done nothing wrong. But I don’t live in under a rock—constitutional and civil rights are not exactly held in high order in Florida these days, and in the Miami exile community, the rules of the game are somewhat different. As a private employer, the Marlins had the right to suspend Ozzie, and they didn’t do it because they care about his politics—they did it because they can’t afford to lose ticket-buyers over the incident. The tide may be turning in Miami, but there are still thousands of fans who are upset about this and will probably show it by giving up their season tickets this year. Local politicians can’t afford it either—the Marlins’ new stadium was built with local tax dollars, and taxpayers are perfectly aware of this.

I recognize that the conservative exile voice remains extremely powerful in Miami, but I’ve come to suspect that this power lies mainly in the hands of political and business elites, and an aging group of “hardliners”–these folks represent some portion of the population, but not all of it. When President Obama carried Miami-Dade county with 58% of the vote in Miami-Dade county in 2008, it became clear that some kind of shift is underway. I hope that what Twitter, YouTube and other social media sites showed last week is evidence that this is not just a liberal media myth, but a sign of a different generation with a different outlook towards Cuba, and towards Washington. I also hope that traditional media folks (I’m looking at you, @Inquirer_2012 and @MedillWatchdog) can heed this as a little lesson in how social media can augment and diversify their coverage of public opinion on red hot controversies like this one.

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