What the Anti-Cuba Protest at the World Baseball Classic Was Really About (OPINION)

Mar 21, 2023
5:52 PM

Cuban Americans protest the Cuba national baseball team playing at the World Baseball Classic game, Sunday, March 19, 2023, in Miami, Florida. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

The World Baseball Classic will come to a close in Miami on Tuesday after Japan battles it out with the United States for bragging rights on the world stage.

On Sunday, the U.S. played the Cuban national team in a semifinal game to a mixed crowd of fans of the game and protesters against the Cuban regime. The goal of the demonstrations was presumably to bring awareness to Cuba’s totalitarian regime, but it isn’t being discussed outside of the Cuban American community for two reasons: First, Major League Baseball, which oversees the tournament, made efforts to avoid politicizing the match-ups, and, second, the much of the protest wasn’t genuine.

The shameless self-promotion among anti-communist Cubans became anti-Cuba protests prior to the game outside of LoanDepot stadium. It didn’t take long to see and hear what the motivations of many protesters were, and it wasn’t about saving Cuba from anything. It seemed to be more about making the archipelago another U.S. territory, on the one hand, and the destruction of an island nation that has never known true independence or freedom since the majority of Cuban dictators were installed by the United States and Cuba’s 60-plus years of independence has been dominated by the U.S. embargo.

What we saw in the online videos posted to social media was nothing more than virtue-signaling. While virtue-signaling isn’t always bad, it does have a negative effect when it’s not followed by meaningful action. And that’s what we saw during Cuba’s matchup with the United States: nothing but shameless self-promotion among self-proclaimed activists acting more important than they are.

In a screenshot from Alex Otaola’s Facebook Live broadcast before the World Baseball Classic game between Cuba and the U.S., an anti-Cuba protester drapes himself in a Trump 2024 MAGA banner, Miami, Florida, Sunday, March 19, 2023.

This brings us to Alex Otaola. The openly racist, once progressive, and self-proclaimed anti-Castroist likes to promote himself as if he’s having an impact on Cuba. And in one sense, he is—just not like he thinks.

Most Cubans on the island despise Otaola and, because of that, he’s driving more animus against the United States. Many Cuban Americans also detest him for his often intolerant political and social views. His platform encourages other Cuban Americans to espouse the same anti-Semitic and anti-Black talking points used by racists in the United States.

While it’s not clear whether he sees himself as the next Cuban leader, he definitely acts like he does. The thing is, not many outside of Cuban Facebook know him, and because all he does is talk badly about others and mock them, it’s doubtful that anyone will ever take him seriously.

And since he can’t seem to withstand criticism, commentary, or mockery about himself, that makes for a weak leader. Like every other far-right personality out there, he can dish it out, but he can’t take it.

In a screenshot from his Facebook Live broadcast before the game between Cuba and the United States, Alex Otaola stands with anti-Cuba protesters outside LoanDepot Stadium in Miami, Florida, Sunday, March 19, 2023.

I watched Otaola’s Facebook live broadcast on Monday, the day after the Cuba-U.S. game. It was riddled with accusations of Democrats being communists, a lot of talk about George Soros, and, of course, the comparisons of the plight of Cubans to Black Lives Matter (BLM). Comparing two issues with no connection or similarities make for a false equivalence, so Otaola’s pointing in making such a comparison is seemingly to attack BLM and paint the movement as communist and supported by “the Jews”—just like white supremacists do.

During Otaola’s broadcast, Republican Florida state Sen. Ileana Garcia complained about security at LoanDepot Stadium denying entry to some Cubans who were wearing politically charged attire. Major League Baseball made it clear early on that it did not want to politicize the tournament, which lead to Garcia began making references  to MLB embracing the BLM movement in 2020.


Let’s be clear, dragging Black Lives Matter into anything related to Cubans is racist. Anti-Blackness in the Cuban diaspora is so pervasive that even some Afro-Cubans deploy it because they don’t consider themselves Black. But as they learn and embrace racist rhetoric and behaviors from the same racist Cubans that fled Cuba because of equal rights, they have to deal with racism in the Cuban American community.

The shunning of the Afro-Cuban community is the reason you see a majority of white Cubans using the most extreme rhetoric. Colorism in Latin America is a major issue, and for the Cuban American community, much of it has been brought from Cuba and integrated into the racist state here in the United States.

Proximity to whiteness is a powerful tool for bigots and their recruitment efforts. It drags people like Enrique Tarrio in, and they willingly embrace it.


As I have written countless times, many of the issues the Cuban American community tries to get engagement on are serious and should attract attention, but those issues are diminished within the U.S. population at large when employing racism and bigotry. The United States is a country that has yet to reckon with the plight of Indigenous and Black communities caused by the racist state.

But ike the good little Trump supporters that many anti-Cuba protesters are, they don’t care. They think they’re being edgy. That’s what the protests at LoanDepot stadium were about. All they did was try to outshout each other, acting as if the one with the most extreme language wins.

It was like watching recess at a daycare and all their screaming —at the same time— made their message next to impossible to decipher. The loudest were the most bigoted, and no one wants to hear that.

The protest was about proximity to whiteness and self-promotion. Nothing more. Cubans on the island deserve better representation here than that.


Arturo Domínquez is a first-generation Cuban American, anti-racist, journalist, and the publisher of The Antagonist magazine. Twitter: @ExtremeArturo