By Vanessa Arrington
The Associated Press
Posted June 21 2005, 7:44 PM EDT
HAVANA—It was supposed to be a friendly baseball game. But hours before a neighborhood youth group was to play a team from the U.S. mission in Havana, Cuban security agents allegedly charged into the home of activist Marcos de Miranda and confiscated his baseballs, bats and mitts.
The action, de Miranda says, is the latest and among the most bizarre in a long history of harassment targeting his family, made up of dissidents clamoring for change in communist Cuba.
``It was to be a sports and cultural event _ nothing at all political,’’ de Miranda, 28, said in his family’s crumbling apartment. ``We’re denied even the right to play our national sport.’’ De Miranda’s 59-year-old father, Roberto, is a librarian among 75 government opponents rounded up two years ago, though he was released for health reasons last year.
His 54-year-old mother, Soledad Rivas, is a member of the increasingly audacious ``Ladies in White’’ who have protested for the release of imprisoned dissidents.
They say their existence in Cuba is difficult. Speaking out against President Fidel Castro and his government has brought a slew of punishments, ranging from lost jobs and social ostracism to prison time and death threats.
Of stout build and fiery eyes, Marcos de Miranda is a bundle of energy, a youth activist ready to take on the system. He says he’s willing to go to jail fighting for a Cuba where citizens can say what they please and have economic and political freedom.
As a teenager, de Miranda was expelled from a military cadet school for refusing to participate in a verbal attack on dissidents including his father. He says he has lost five jobs at Havana restaurants and a store on government orders.
``Keep in mind that we are peaceful opponents,’’ de Miranda said. ``We are fighting with our ideas, not weapons.’‘
His 26-year-old brother, Mikael, also lost a job hand-rolling Habanos at a cigar factory, apparently also because of the family’s politics.
De Miranda founded a youth group in March, which he says has dozens of members across the island. While the core membership includes unabashed government opponents, the group also organizes nonpolitical activities _ like the baseball game scheduled for June 12.
The game was to include many non-dissidents from de Miranda’s neighborhood, one of the city’s poorest. The game, against a team mainly made up of U.S. Marines attached to the U.S. Interests Section, had been advertised around the seaside diplomatic offices.
With U.S. policy toward Cuba increasingly rigid, relations between the government and the Interests Section are tense. Cuban dissidents who contact American officials are accused of receiving U.S. financial aid and opening themselves to manipulation.
The day of the proposed game, the Marines and others decided to go out to play baseball anyway. The field they went to, which is usually empty Sunday morning, was occupied by members of Cuba’s Communist Youth group playing soccer, a U.S. Interests Section official said on customary condition of anonymity in a statement.
The group of Americans was then turned away from two other fields, eventually being told by a field director that they must pay a fee and get advance government permission to play, the official said.
The baseball equipment had been sent to de Miranda from an exile group in Florida. A bicycle, which he won in an essay contest from an anti-communist group in the Czech Republic, was also confiscated.
According to the family, state security agents arrived at the apartment the afternoon before the game. Marcos de Miranda was not there, but his parents were taken to government offices for questioning.
Roberto de Mirando said he was threatened with jail if he didn’t control his son’s activities. He said he was told the baseball game couldn’t take place because the Americans hadn’t gotten permission.
Back at the house, the family said the agents seized goods _ the younger de Miranda called it ``authorized robbery.’’ Cuban officials were not available for comment.
De Miranda said his 7-year-old nephew was questioned about how many baseball gloves, bats and balls there were in the house. Rivas said it was the fourth raid the boy had seen.
``I want them to leave this family alone!’’ she said. ``We are not going to change. Our ideas will stay the same.’‘
Roberto de Miranda, who appeared weak from his ailments, said his family’s resolve is rock-hard.
``They want to silence this family, but I don’t think that’s possible,’’ he said. ``And as a father, I cannot tell my son to retreat from the opposition _ he’s doing nothing wrong.’’