Accessibility links

Political Division Shadows Venezuelan Baseball Team


Organizers of the World Baseball Classic, which ends Monday, say competition is aimed at showcasing international talent and bringing the game to new fans. For the Venezuelan team, the contest has drawn unwanted attention to the country's political divide. Some Venezuelan fans in the U.S. are venting their frustration at one top player.

International sporting contests often provoke displays of national pride. But this year's World Baseball Classic has done that and more for the team from Venezuela and one of its top sluggers.

"We call him a sell-out, a traitor, a Chavista, and a lot of people whistle when he comes up to bat," said Carlos Fenice, a Miami car salesman.

The target of those calls is Magglio Ordonez, who plays professionally in Detroit. Fans object because Ordonez is a vocal supporter of President Hugo Chavez and recently recorded a campaign ad in support of him.

Miami is home to a large Venezuelan immigrant community, where many reject the Socialist-inspired policies of President Chavez. At home in Venezuela, the Chavez government claims broad support, but recent elections show opposition is growing.

Carlos Fenice says ball player Ordonez has widened the political divide even further. "Public figures should be very careful with what they say, because they can hurt a lot of people's feelings," he said. "And that is what Ordonez has done."

Others say the controversy distracts from the tournament. Orthodontist Gustavo Munoz traveled from Venezuela to see his team play.

"We don't want to mix sports with politics, because baseball brings people together and politics only divides them. We want to focus on the team," said Munoz.

The fan reactions also have highlighted the long-running tensions between the governments of Venezuela and the United States.

Fan Jose Echevarria says the political debate over Mr. Chavez's policies should be a domestic issue. "We Venezuelans need to deal with these problems ourselves and not let them spill outside the country or into the world of sports," he said.

Critics of Mr. Chavez agree that politics have no place in baseball, and Gilberto Rios says Ordonez should keep his political views private.

"There are plenty of other players who have met the president, but they don't talk about it publicly," said Rios. "And that is what bothers many of us."

Ordonez has shrugged off the criticism, saying he is proud of his ties to Mr. Chavez. Team manager Luis Sojo says, in spite of a few boos, the overall support from Venezuelan fans has been strong.

"Coming to Miami where there are a lot of Venezuelans, that support is very important," he said. "They showed their emotion here."

Venezuela won all three of its games in Miami, advancing to the semifinals in Los Angeles. Fans say the boos will likely follow Ordonez, but they hope the team's success continues as well.

XS
SM
MD
LG