The Cuban Baseball Fan: Breslin's piece in the limelight again

Posted: 14-Nov-15 11:31

Cuban society is moving and changing slowly, but it definitely isn't in the same place it was 40 years ago, when a man called Campos was the prototype of a baseball fan in Cuba. Jimmy Breslin, a well-known American reporter, wrote about Campos and the island in the 70s, and The Daily Beast recently brought the story back to life to share it with their readers of today.

The Cuban Baseball Fan: Breslin's piece in the limelight again

The Daily Beast recently published an old article written by Jimmy Breslin about Cuba during the 1970s. The editors dug into old archives and found a piece written by the American reporter and Pulitzer-Prize winner, about a road sweeper and passionate Cuban baseball fan called Campos.

Breslin, an experienced narrator, displayed the same technique that he used in the early 60s when he reported on Kennedy´s funeral services from the point of view of the man who excavated the presidential grave. A micro-story, that maybe will be insignificant to many people, gives the audience the opportunity to see big events and macro contexts from a different perspective.

The reporter wrote about a normal day in Campos´s life as a means of delivering an accurate and real description of the Cuban situation during those days. He followed the man while he was working in Havana and also went in to his home, where they shared a meal and chatted about politics, sports, and Campos´s family.

From his journey, Breslin highlighted that lots of army vehicles were diving around Havana, giving him the impression of being in a “military base”. The American journalist also pointed out the dirtiness of the Cuban capital, stating that it was practically senseless to sweep the narrow, muddy streets, “lined with high piles of debris”.

The description of government propaganda system is central in this article as well. Breslin found interesting how an organisation like CDR (Committee for the Defence of the Revolution) had offices equipped with printing machines everywhere. He also saw buildings “cloaked with banners and posters of Lenin and Che Guevara”. Fidel Castro’s famous long speeches were mentioned in the article too.

But as this is a story written in the past, in some aspects it doesn´t reflects Cuba´s current situation, not now when many around the world are turning their heads to this small country, after the governments of the United States and Cuba began to work in the normalisation of their relationships. The governmental approach is also contributing to some extent to make things look different.

To start with, nowadays American visitors are no longer the most unlikely people to travel to the island, and for sure they aren’t treated with the extreme caution and contempt as Breslin was in the 70s. Not only that, Cuba is now expecting to receive a massive wave of tourists from the United States, an easy-to-predict trend given that between December 2014 and July 2015, the arrival of US visitors to the island increased by 54% over the previous year. And this is all thanks to the fact that virtually any American citizen can now freely visit the island thanks to the change in US Congress legislation, which now makes travel to Cuba possible for Americans as long as they fit within one of the 12 established categories of travel.

Also visitors are increasingly captivated by the amount of classic, vintage American cars from the 1940s and 1950s that are still on the roads driving tourists around the city. Havana is often called “a rolling car museum” in opposition to the “military base” that Breslin pictured in his article.

Communist propaganda remains one of the most interesting peculiarities of Cuba, where advertising from private brands is rarely seen. But nowadays it's more difficult to find buildings mantled with images of Soviet leaders, there are still many to be found but they aren't as widespread as they once were. Instead, the Cuban government is now dedicating more resources to educational and social campaigns, encouraging good behaviour among its citizens and promoting the idea of efficiency and commitment to work as a way for developing the economy.

Fidel Castro left the presidency in 2008, and after stepping down he barely appears on the media. Raúl Castro, the head of state since Fidel´s retirement is often described “as a pragmatic leader” who doesn’t deliver long speeches, as his brother used to do.

Kerosene kitchens and CDRs equipped with mimeograph machines for printing leaflets are less and less common in Cuba (virtually extinct by now). Public transport subsidised by the state remains insufficient, but it has improved substantially in the last five years, with some private alternatives now in operation in the form of collective taxis called “almendrones” (big almonds), which currently cover 20 routes in the capital.

Moreover, while baseball continues to be the nation’s flagship sport it has lost popularity after a period of decline in which many prominent baseball figures retired or migrated. Baseball fever is not as widespread among young people as it once was and Cuban youngsters have now been increasingly influenced by the global appeal of football.

Cuban society is moving and changing slowly, but it definitely isn’t in the same place it was 40 years ago, when Campos was the prototype of baseball fan in Cuba. So it's perhaps time that The Daily Beast moves with the times or at least make it clear that what they recently published shows a picture of an old Cuba as it was more than five decades ago.


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