Richard Hidalgo was shot in the forearm during a carjacking attempt in Venezuela in 2002. Three years later, kidnappers demanded $6 million for the release of Maura Villarreal who had been taken from her home in Ocumare del Tuy, outside of Caracas. Villarreal was rescued unharmed. In 2008, however, Carlos Simon Blanco Sanchez was murdered by his kidnappers in Venezuela. In 2009, an 11-year old and his uncle were kidnapped on the way to the boy’s school (but were later released as police were closing in); Jose Castillo was attacked by armed men as he left a luxury hotel; and Elizabeth Mendez Zambrano was kidnapped nine days after her nephew was abducted and killed.
What did these individuals have in common? They all had ties to Major League Baseball: an outfielder, a former player, and players’ moms, son, cousin, brother, and brother-in-law. In 2013, another player’s family – his father, mother and youngest brother – were unharmed in a kidnapping attempted in Valencia, Venezuela.
The nonprofit Venezuelan Observatory of Violence identified Venezuela as the second most murderous nation in the world in 2016, noting that there were more than 28,000 homicides in Venezuela that year – a rate of 91.8 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. According to the U.S. State Department, kidnapping is “a major criminal industry” in Venezuela and while there are no official counts of the number of “it is believed that kidnapping cases remained constant during 2016, as with 2015.” In 2011 alone, more than 1,000 people were kidnapped in Venezuela. One of them was a Major Leaguer. Still, it would take a little more than four more years before the majority of MLB teams would close their training academies in the country.
Recently, major leaguers from Venezuela have begun speaking out about the problems in Venezuela. Francisco Cervelli, Salvador Perez, and Miguel Cabrera are just a few of the players who have made statements about the current situation. Other Latino players have also shown their support.
With the increasing tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela, and the upcoming deadline for a vote on the new legislature, these issues are sure to remain in the news. With the increasing involvement of major leaguers, perhaps more of us will be informed of what is happening internationally and perhaps something can be done to assist those living in Venezuela during these challenging times.
Since April this year, nearly 100 people have died in clashes with Venezuelan security forces during mass protests, with thousands more injured and hundreds arrested. Protesters have denounced plans for a “Constituent Assembly” to replace the National Assembly and are demanding early presidential elections. In recent months, the political and economic situation in Venezuela has deteriorated to the point where Major League Baseball players have joined the call to end to the oppression of the Venezuelan people. As the Latin American nation becomes more unstable economically and more dangerous to visitors and citizens, it is important to understand the issues and why even baseball is affected. The Washington Post summed up the conditions in Venezuela as follows:
“Venezuela is a powder keg. Once a rich country held together by strong leadership and heavy social spending, it is now in economic disaster and could slide into widespread social disorder, triggering instability throughout Latin America. Drastic shortages of food, medicine, electricity and other necessities are causing small riots. Organized crime and extrajudicial police killings have given Venezuela a frighteningly high rate of murder and violence.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department noted, “The United States deplores the Venezuelan government’s increasing authoritarianism, and the convocation of a National Constituent Assembly designed to undermine Venezuela’s democratic institutions, including the National Assembly.” The Constituent Assembly is currently scheduled for a vote on July 30. Yesterday, the U.S. government announced it had begun preparing sanctions against Venezuela which it would implement if the Latin American country continues with its plans to replace the National Assembly with a new “Constituent Assembly,” which critics state simply would do the bidding of Venezuela’s President Nicholas Maduro. After Sunday’s unofficial referendum (organized by oppositions leaders) revealed that more than 7 million people in Venezuela opposed the new assembly, the White House issued a statement that said, in part, that the “strong and courageous actions [of the Venezuelan people] continue to be ignored by a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator.”
Although the United States established diplomatic relations with Venezuela in 1935, the relationship between the two countries has been strained in recent years. The State Department attributes the deterioration of relations to the most recent presidents of Venezuela having partly defined themselves through opposition to the U.S. government and practicing “21st Century Socialism” at the expense of the Venezuelan people and economy. Thus, in December 2016, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning advising against U.S. citizens visiting Venezuela “due to violent crime, social unrest, and pervasive food and medicine shortages.”
While it is difficult to sum up the political issues of the past century, we can see that decades of economic decline and political instability have taken their toll. (See the timeline posted below.) Tomorrow we will review the toll this has taken on baseball and what current MLB players are saying needs to be done.
The following timeline includes highlights from a chronology published recently by the BBC News and other sources:
1908-35 – Dictator Juan Vicente Gomez in control at the same time Venezuela becomes the world’s largest oil exporter.
1945 – A coup establishes civilian government after decades of military rule.
1948 – A coup overthrows Venezuela’s first democratically-elected leader after eight months of rule
1958 – Leftist Romulo Betancourt of the Democratic Action Party (AD) wins presidential election.
1973 – Venezuela benefits from oil boom and its currency peaks against the US dollar; oil and steel industries nationalized.
1989 – Carlos Andres Perez elected president amid economic depression, launches austerity program. A huge increase in gas prices leads to riots, martial law, and general strike follow; hundreds killed in street violence.
1992 – Two coup attempts by Hugo Chavez and his followers
1993-95 – President Perez impeached on corruption charges.
1998-2013. Hugo Chavez elected president in 1998 amid disenchantment with established parties, launches ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ that brings in new constitution, socialist and populist economic and social policies funded by high oil prices, and increasingly vocal anti-US foreign policy. During his presidency, Chavez will nationalize several industries and sign cooperation accords with Russia. Chavez government temporarily overthrown in 2002, but pro-Chavez forces reinstall Chavez two days later. In March 2005, media regulations are issued which provide stiff fines and prison terms for slandering public figures and Venezuela ends its 35-year military relationship between the U.S. In 2010, Chavez devalues Venezuela’s currency against the U.S. dollar. Later that year, Parliament grants Chavez special powers to deal with devastating floods, prompting opposition fears of greater authoritarianism. In 2012, the Venezuelan government extends price controls on more basic goods in the battle against inflation. Chavez wins a fourth term in office, but dies in April 2013.
2013 – Nicholas Maduro elected president by a less than 2 percent margin. In November, with inflation running at more than 50% a year, the National Assembly gives President Maduro emergency powers for a year, prompting protests by opposition supporters.
2014 – Protests over poor security in the western states of Venezuela win the backing of opposition parties and turn into anti-government rallies. At least 28 people die in the ensuing violence. In November, the government announces cuts in public spending as oil prices continue to drop.
2014-2015 – Opposition figure Maria Corina Machado charged with conspiracy to assassinate President Maduro; opposition mayor of Caracas charged with plotting coup with US support. In December 2015, the opposition Democratic Unity coalition wins two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections, ending 16 years of Socialist Party control.
2016 – Three Democratic Unity deputies resign from the National Assembly parliament in January under Supreme Court pressure, depriving coalition of clear two-thirds majority that would have allowed it to block legislation proposed by President Maduro. In February, Maduro announces measures aimed at fighting economic crisis, including currency devaluation and first petrol price rise in 20 years. In September, hundreds of thousands of people take part in a protest in Caracas calling for the removal of President Maduro, accusing him of responsibility for the economic crisis.
Sometimes, with the over-abundance of military days at the ballpark, it becomes easy to overlook the days that are truly deserving of our honor and respect. In fact, many of us have tired of the almost daily renditions of “God Bless America” and military-inspired uniforms at MLB stadiums – to the point where we no longer pay that much attention. However, Memorial Day is one those days that reminds us that there are some things that are bigger and more important than baseball. And when baseball honors such days, it can be truly awe-inspiring.
Memorial Day began as Decoration Day in 1868, after the American Civil War. Today it is a U.S. Federal holiday to honor and remember service members who died while serving in the the U.S. Armed Forces. It is a holiday on which we can relax, enjoy time off from work, and take time to appreciate the freedoms we enjoy because of the sacrifice of others.
This year, MLB and MiLB ballparks across the U.S. will have a variety of activities and remembrances in honor of Memorial Day. For example, more than 100 baseball players will wear Memorial Day-themed cleats from Adidas. The shoes have a small red poppy with a ribbon that says, “Thank you.” There is also a pull-tab on the back of the cleats that states, “Forever Honor.” For those like me that had no idea – red poppies are known as the “remembrance poppy” and are often used to honor military personnel.
Memorial Day weekend also happens to coincide with many youth baseball tournaments, which keeps many families from properly celebrating the holiday. To address that problem, an assistant coach and former Marine in Maryland has ensured that the Chesapeake Classic Baseball Tournament being held in Elkton, MD, honors the day. Plans included a short ceremony with the teams gathering on the main field to honor the men and women who died while serving in the armed forces, members of the 4th Combat Engineer Battalion of the Marine Corps Reserve presenting the colors, the singing of the National Anthem, and current members of the military giving speeches on the meaning of Memorial Day.
… the local newspaper keeps tabs on where baseball players who played at the local colleges and universities are currently playing.
On a recent trip to New Orleans, LA, I noticed a list of all the guys who had played locally – including both major and minor league players. I knew they took college baseball really seriously in Louisiana, but this was pretty cool:
Deux Montréalais qui vont visiter chaque terrain de la ligue majeure de baseball pour promouvoir le retour d'une équipe de baseball à Montréal Two montrealers visiting all the mlb ballparks to promote the return of an mlb franchise in Montreal