The political crisis in Venezuela has escalated to the point that during this week’s All-Star Game break, Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera felt compelled to speak out via Instagram Stories about threats to his family and his support for the “resistance.”
Cabrera didn’t mince words on Monday in the opening segment of an extended series of 15-second posts that instantly went viral: “My people, I’ll speak to you clearly and pointedly. What do you want me to do to help Venezuela? Do you want me to send weapons? Because I’ve helped Venezuela a lot. I’ve sent medicine. I’ve sent food. Do you want me to send weapons?”
“Please, don’t say that we are not fighting,” Cabrera added shortly afterward.
Yes, the crisis has escalated to the point that legendary shortstop Luis Aparicio, the sole Venezuelan enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, declined an invitation to Miami to participate in the All-Star Game ceremony honoring the Latinos inducted in Cooperstown.
“Thank you @MLB for the tribute at #ASG2017, but I can’t celebrate when the youth of my country are dying while fighting for the ideals of liberty,” Aparicio said in Spanish on Tuesday in a tweet that has garnered more than 14,000 likes and 17,000 retweets in three days.
Since then, momentum has built to the point that the Detroit Tigers’ Omar Vizquel and other Venezuelan players and coaches are urging people via social media to vote in Sunday’s referendum opposing the government’s plan to elect a National Constituent Assembly at the end of the month and overhaul the 1999 constitution.
“Venezuelans, on July 16 don’t forget to go and vote in the popular referendum. All you have to do is check off the three ‘yeses.’ Yes, yes, yes for Venezuela. You don’t need to be in the voter registry. All you need is a photo ID or a passport. Don’t forget to do it. Vote for Venezuela,” said Vizquel in an Instagram video that was posted on Wednesday and has been viewed more than 21,900 times in two days.
Raw, honest and personal
Cabrera, a two-time MVP and four-time batting champion, is arguably the best player ever to come out of Venezuela, a figure much beloved in his country and usually referred to by his nickname “Miggy.” He has spoken out previously, in more measured tones, against the growing violence and rising death toll at home, including in a La Vida video in early May.
His Instagram Stories are raw, honest and personal, shot at an undisclosed beach resort while wearing a floppy hat and sunglasses. Cabrera, an 11-time All-Star, was perhaps taking advantage of the time away from the first Midsummer Classic he has missed since 2009. His postings touch on a range of topics and lasted a total of five and half minutes, saved on YouTube by various social media sites, including Runrunes, a Venezuelan digital platform.
Clearly, Cabrera, whose average annual salary is $31 million, has been stung by criticism that he isn’t doing enough to support those opposing the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Since the street demonstrations started in early April, more than 92 persons have died and 1,500 injured.
“I’m fighting, my people. Everybody says, ‘You got it good up there.’ It wouldn’t be cool to go to Venezuela. Like the Chavistas told me: ‘If you go to Venezuela, they’ll break you, they’ll kill you.’ That’s what they told me,” Cabrera said.
“Many people say, ‘You haven’t taken a stance, you are a Chavista, this and that.’ I don’t need to be a Chavista, nor in the opposition. I’m Venezuelan and I’m protesting for the truth. Communism has to end in Venezuela, because that is Communism. The Chavistas are not really Chavistas, they are opportunists, because all they care about is money.”
For the first time, Cabrera acknowledged the payment of vacunas or protection money for his family, including his parents Miguel and Gregoria and sister Ruth, who all still live in Venezuela.
“I’m tired of paying protection money so they don’t kidnap my mother, not knowing whether they are police or criminals,” said Cabrera, adding that the government took away the bodyguards he hired for his family. “All I ask is, please, don’t hurt my family.”
Until this year, with rare exceptions, Major League Baseball players from Venezuela had avoided talking openly about politics or taking sides in a country where many supported Chavismo, the left-wing ideology that has defined Venezuelan politics since the late Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999.
Since 2013, the economy has shrunk by 27 percent and the country has been wracked by triple-digit inflation, chronic shortages of food and medicine, an infant mortality rate of 30 percent, widespread malnutrition and rampant crime. Now many fear that Maduro’s attempt to rewrite the constitution is a blatant power grab by a president and party that have lost popular support.
Despite the fear of reprisals, Venezuelan players — led by Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli and Kansas City shortstop Alcides Escobar — have taken to social media to criticize the government and demand elections.
Cabrera and Aparicio are now the most prominent ballplayers to defy Maduro. In doing so, Cabrera ignored advice he received early in his career from Andrés Galarraga, the slugging first baseman who played in the major leagues from 1985 through 2004.
“I’m going to tell you one thing. The first piece of advice that I got from Galarraga was never to get involved in politics, and I’ve gotten involved. But right now, we have to get involved because the country is being held hostage. People, I speak from the heart. There is no war, only a war over power. Call yourself what you want — Maduristas, Chavistas, opposition — but we need to have elections for all.”
Ironically, Galarraga is also ignoring his own advice. On Thursday, through Instagram, he urged people to participate in Sunday’s referendum. Cervelli posted his own Instagram video on Friday morning, getting 11,100 views in three hours while saying in Spanish: “Each one of you counts. Each one of us counts. Let’s do it!” The hope is that a majority of the 20 million eligible adults in Venezuela and outside the country participate and vote against changes to the constitution.
In his Instagram Stories, Cabrera denies receiving money from the United States government and made reference to different Venezuelan officials, including former Tigers teammate Carlos Guillén, who he accuses of orchestrating a photo opportunity to make Cabrera look like a government supporter. Guillén is currently president of IRDA, the sports ministry for the state of Aragua, governed by Tareck El Aissami, Vice President of Venezuela since January.
“My people, I can’t speak more clearly. I’m not for dictatorships,” Cabrera said. “We have to fight for a better country, find a solution.
“This is a greeting for the people of the resistance,” Cabrera said near the end of his Instagram Stories. “You are not alone; we continue supporting you. They claim that the gringos are paying us. What gringos are paying us? What gringos are paying you? You are not alone. Let’s keep fighting.”
Featured Image: Juan Barreto / AFP / Getty Images