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Marlins' Guillen learns of free speech and consequences

From Mariano Castillo, CNN
April 10, 2012 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ozzie Guillen's comments are protected by the First Amendment
  • But there is a fallout from his remarks about Castro
  • In Miami, Fidel Castro is a sensitive topic

Miami, Florida (CNN) -- Ozzie Guillen's remarks on Fidel Castro may be constitutionally protected, but he has learned there is nothing shielding him from the ire of Miami's large Cuban community.

His comment to Time magazine that he loves Fidel Castro and later comment that he "respects" him rankled some members of the Cuban-American community in Miami, home to the baseball team Guillen manages, the Marlins.

The team's stadium is located in the area of the city known as Little Havana.

The reaction by the team was swift -- a five-game suspension. Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig supported the move.

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"Mr. Guillen's remarks, which were offensive to an important part of the Miami community and others throughout the world, have no place in our game," he said Tuesday.

The reaction by some in the Cuban-American community has been stronger.

Anti-Castro protesters demonstrated Tuesday outside the baseball stadium.

The fallout may cost Guillen the trust of Miami fans.

"There is absolutely nothing not protected by the First Amendment that he said," Florida International University Professor Howard M. Wasserman said. It was an example of political speech, pure and simple.

But free speech can have consequences, as Guillen is learning.

"The problem is, he's in Miami," Wasserman said.

Miami's Cuban community is made up of a large number of exiles who fled the Castro regime. Many of them lobby in support of the U.S. embargo against Cuba and other anti-Castro measures. Cuba's current president is Fidel's brother, Raul Castro.

In another city, Guillen's comments may not have been as controversial, but in Miami, there is a unique sensitivity to Castro, Wasserman said.

"I think it's kind of silly, but it's where he happens to be," he said.

If the government had suspended an public employee for political speech, it would be illegal, he said. But the Marlins, as a private entity, can mete out punishment as they see fit.

The Marlins have a need to protect their market, and are using their own right to free speech in handing down the suspension, the law professor said.

Marlins fans on social media came out on both sides of the debate.

Guillen apologized Tuesday in Spanish at a news conference, saying his words were misconstrued and that he finds Castro's human rights record odious. "I have hurt a community without wanting to, but I did it," he said. "I feel like I betrayed the Latin people. I'm here to ask pardon with my hand on my heart. To ask of all people I hurt -- directly or indirectly."

But for some Cuban and Cuban-American fans, the damage was done.

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald summed up the emotions felt by some over Guillen's comments.

"There are people in South Florida who are angry with Guillen because he struck an emotional and painful nerve. I am unapologetically one of those people because the communist dictator Guillen apparently loves broke my family," he wrote in a column.

Salguero said he would prefer to see an indefinite suspension for the manager.

Other Marlins fans, even some who disagreed with Guillen's remarks, didn't like the way the suspension was handled.

Frank Ramirez, a longtime fan, said that Miami "is the last place you want to say something like that."

Still, he drew a distinction between the ball club suspending Guillen for what he said, rather than acting in response to fan outcries.

To suspend Guillen for the content of what he said -- no matter how wrongheaded -- comes across as a violation of his right to free speech, Ramirez said.

But if the club instead reacted to business interests such as fear of a boycott or financial loss, then a punitive action is justified, he said.

And some fans are clamoring for a punishment harsher than the five-game suspension, Ramirez said.

"I don't think Marlins fans will forgive him for this," he said.

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