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posted: 4/11/2012 5:30 AM

Guillen 'doesn't think before he speaks,' local Cubans lament

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  • Rick Felipez, co-owner of Lulo's Cuban Cafe in Grayslake, is one of several suburban Cuban-Americans who believe former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was properly punished by his new team for praising Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

       Rick Felipez, co-owner of Lulo's Cuban Cafe in Grayslake, is one of several suburban Cuban-Americans who believe former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was properly punished by his new team for praising Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen gestures at a news conference at the Marlins Stadium in Miami on Tuesday. Guillen was suspended for five games Tuesday because of his comments about Fidel Castro.

      Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen gestures at a news conference at the Marlins Stadium in Miami on Tuesday. Guillen was suspended for five games Tuesday because of his comments about Fidel Castro.
    Associated Press

  • Video: Guillen on Castro comments

 
 

Absurd, awful and even amusing were just some of the words suburban Cuban-Americans used to describe former Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen's comments about Fidel Castro that led to his five-game suspension by his new team.

Reactions from suburban residents with ties to Cuba were mixed but mostly critical of Guillen in the wake of his suspension by the Miami Marlins Tuesday. Though to some degree, they all agreed Guillen made a spectacular error by praising the Cuban dictator in any way in South Florida, home to the largest number of Cuban expatriates in the country.

"I think it's awful and I agree with the suspension. There's nothing he can do to take back what he said, so the team had to do something since they couldn't really fire him for saying what he thought," said Rick Felipez, who co-owns Lulo's Cuban Cafe in Grayslake with his sister Hayden.

Their father left Cuba before Castro's regime took over, but was heartbroken that he could never return before he died years ago, Felipez said.

"My relatives in Miami hated him because they consider him a suppressive dictator who hoodwinked the people," Felipez said of Castro.

Castro came to power in 1959, leading communist rebels who overthrew Cuban President Fulgencio Batista's regime. Batista led an administration that some Cubans believe was as bad as Castro's.

"I lived in Cuba until I was almost 13-years old," said Miriam Scott, a Chicago resident who attended high school in Mount Prospect. "My father had been imprisoned by Batista and beaten up. But my family left Cuba because of Castro. He was a big disappointment."

Scott said she initially found Guillen's comments "amusing" when she read the entirety of the interview that got him suspended.

Time Magazine reported Guillen said, "I love Fidel Castro. I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that (expletive) is still there."

Guillen has since backtracked and apologized for his statement about Castro, saying he was embarrassed and sad about his remarks. Cuban community leaders in Miami protested and demanded the Marlins fire the Venezuelan-born Guillen.

Scott said she was somewhat surprised by the uproar.

"He's outspoken," she said of Guillen. "He doesn't think before he speaks. That's him. To me, he's not a politician, he's not a diplomat, he's a baseball coach. He doesn't know."

Others were less forgiving.

"Know your audience, dude," said Maria Thornton of Aurora. "For him to say what he said is an insult, but to say it where he said it is absurd. You're going to say that in Little Havana for the love of God? They're going to lose fans for this."

Thornton was born in Miami to parents who fled Cuba when Castro took control. She said she talked to her mom about the brouhaha and her mother wanted to "buy him a ticket to Venezuela via Havana so he can coach baseball for $200 a year."

Thornton said there's not much room in the Cuban-American community for any type of praise for Castro, even flippant remarks about his longevity.

"We are narrow-minded when it comes to Castro," she said. "That's what hurts us the most because he's stuck around so long."

Ernesto Pujals, an 80-year-old Elgin resident who fled Cuba when he was 27 after taking part in a rebellion to overthrow Castro, said that he still considers himself Cuban despite living longer in the U.S.

"Anything you mention about Fidel Castro is going to be taken very seriously by the Cuban population here," he said. "Any comment praising a dictator, that we have suffered so much because of, is a very big mistake. Especially in South Florida."

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