Cuba 26/03/2012

Final countdown before papal visit, friendly baseball to resume with US, and oldest living MLB player alive in Havana.

Cuba on the brink of the papal visit

Cuba entered the final countdown to the papal visit this week, with His Holiness expected in Santiago de Cuba this Monday 26 March.

Preparations were completed in Santiago and Havana, with buildings renovated and painted, streets repaved and cleaned, and hundreds of signs welcoming the pope distributed throughout the cities.

The government also announced a three-day holiday from 26 to 28 March so that people may enjoy the pope’s stay.

However, the pope dented the government’s enthusiasm this week with comments made upon his arrival in Mexico on Friday. At a press conference the pope said it is ‘evident that Marxist ideology as it was conceived no longer responds to reality’, and urged the Cuban government to ‘find new models, with patience, and in a constructive way’.

In response, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said Cubans will listen to what the pope has to say ‘with respect and civility‘. He also warned that actions meant to disrupt the papal agenda will fail, comments targeted at those upset that the pope will not meet with dissident groups.

The current visit has inevitably invited comparisons with Pope John Paul II’s 1998 visit to the island, the first papal visit to the island. Expectations are much more muted regarding this visit, both among Cubans and Cuba analysts.

While analysts questioned then if the pope’s visit would lead to an end of communism in Cuba, now many see it as reinforcing the Church’s role in Cuba. The Church has become instrumental in the past 15 years in providing charity, education, and acting as a negotiator between the State and society.

With discussions of what the papal visit will mean, this week’s special issue of the Economist focuses on Cuba, with the provocative headline ‘Cuba Hurtles towards Capitalism.’ Articles focus on the changes in the Cuban economic system, society, and US-Cuban relations.

US and Cuba to resume friendly baseball games

For the first time in 16 years, baseball teams from Cuba and the United States will once again face each other in friendly baseball games.

On Tuesday, President of the Cuban Baseball Federation Higinio Vélez, and Executive Director of American Baseball, Paul Seiler, met in Havana, where they agreed to resume the games this July.

A team of US university baseball players will face Cuban baseball players this 5 to 9 July at Havana’s Estadio Latinoaméricano.

Friendly baseball games proliferated from 1987 to 1996. A US team has not played in Cuba since 1993. Both presidents expressed great enthusiasm for renewing the games between two of the most baseball-fanatic countries in the world.

Oldest living MLB player is Cuban Connie Marrero

In other baseball news this week, US broadcaster National Public Radio’s All Things Considered uncovered Major League Baseball’s oldest living player, 100-year-old Connie Marrero, who lives in Havana. Marrero played for the Washington Senators in the early 1950s as a pitcher.

Marrero returned to Cuba after five seasons with the Senators, and remained in the country after the 1959 Revolution. Though he is little-known to fans in the United States, he enjoys a great deal of fame in Cuba.

The program reported that he will begin to receive a $10,000 annual pension from Major League Baseball, which was previously held up due to the US trade embargo against Cuba.