Tag Archives: venezuela

Oswaldo on Béisbol

When I was a kid growing up in Indiana, our Little League team took an outing every year to see a game at Old Comiskey Park in Chicago. While I wasn’t much of a White Sox fan, I did always enjoy going to see a game, and I particularly enjoyed watching the Sox’ shortstop Ozzie Guillén play. Guillén had a quick hand in the field and a light stroke at bat—something I appreciated since I wasn’t much of a power hitter myself. Guillén was from Venezuela and part of a sustained wave of players that came to Major League Baseball from that country in the 80s.

But Guillén is better known these days for being the manager of the White Sox. Through that role he became the first Latin-born manager to lead a team to a World Series victory when he took the White Sox to their first championship since 1917 in 2005.  Guillén is also known for being outspoken on…well, just about everything. He even tweets—both in English and Spanish. And he’s never had much love for umpires.

Recently, Guillén’s been making headlines for a comment he made in an interview about the treatment of Latino players versus other foreign-born, non-native-English-speaking players, particularly ones from Japan and Korea.

“I say, why do we have Japanese interpreters and we don’t have a Spanish one. I always say that. Why do they have that privilege and we don’t? … Don’t take this wrong, but they take advantage of us. We bring a Japanese player and they are very good and they bring all these privileges to them. We bring a Dominican kid … go to the minor leagues, good luck. Good luck. And it’s always going to be like that. It’s never going to change. But that’s the way it is.”

You can hear that quote in context in the following video.

Usually when Guillén opens up like this he gets eaten alive by sports media. But he’s actually gotten a little support on this one from some in the sports journalism crowd, though he’s also been blasted by most. Guillén often touches a nerve when he rants about society or the state of baseball or just about anything else. But in this case, he irritated that racial sore that still won’t heal in this country. However, I think he’s also talking about one of the major economic truths of sport: players are products.

In the case of MLB, Asian players are seen by many in baseball management as a precious investment to be protected. Japanese and Korean players also come from industrialized nations, so playing the game in North America is often a career choice for them, not a means to escape poverty—a major bargaining chip when in contract negotiations. Latino talent, on the other hand, is plentiful. Latin American players are an inexpensive investment for teams because many are coming from nations in development or poverty, and they can easily be replaced because there’s always a large group of young players coming up behind them. It’s all about the marketplace. To put it in context, when the Oakland A’s signed Dominican star Miguel Tejada, they paid $2,000 for him. When the Boston Red Sox won the bidding war for Daisuke Matsuzaka, it cost them $102 million. That’s a big gap!

There was an interesting film about the subject of how Dominican players are recruited for the league a few years ago called Sugar. I recommend it. It paints a vivid picture of how baseball can eat up the hearts, minds, and talent of young boys from the island and then dump them on the street corner when their skills have been used up. It can be a brutal world.

Dogs and Politics: Bolívar, Nevado, and Chávez

Because of my experience with Angostura bitters I’ve been looking into other nooks and crannies of Simón Bolívar’s life. One of the more interesting parts of his legacy is the history of  his dog Nevado (Snowy). Like most things related to Bolívar, the story is connected to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

Statue of Bolívar's two companions, Nevado and the Indian Tinjaca. Plaza Bolívar de Mucuchíes, Mérida, Venezuela.

Nevado was a Mucuchí. Mucuchíes are fluffy white Andean dogs that sometimes have a little splash of black, tan, or gray; and they’re pretty much localized to the Mérida region of Venezuela. The breed was started 400 years ago when Augustine missionaries first brought Pyrenean Mastiffs with them to the Andes. Apparently those friars were surprised to find a Andean dog of similar temperament and looks already there when they arrived, so they did the obvious—they breed the two together. (That’s the obvious thing to do, right?) The end result was the Mucuchíes, which are popularly known as a lovable breed of hard-working dogs. They are also the national dog of Venezuela and a kind of national symbol for the country.

Bolívar’s Mucuchí pup Nevado was given to him by the people of Mérida during the leader’s fight for the liberation of Venezuela from Spanish control. Legend has it that Nevado was a faithful companion to Bolívar and even ran alongside Bolívar’s horse when he went into battle. Ultimately the poor thing was killed during the Battle of Carabobo in 1821, which was a decisive win for Bolívar and a key victory leading to Venezuela’s independence. Many memorials exist today in Venezuela dedicated to Nevado and his roll in the liberation of the country, and the dog’s story is a rich part of Venezuelan history. But the Mucuchíes as a whole have seen better days. More and more the breed has been bred with larger dogs such as St. Bernards, making it harder and harder to find a purebred Mucuchí these days. Enter Hugo Chávez.

Recently Chávez gave government backing and funding to the Nevado Foundation (named after Bolívar’s dog of course), an organization that has been trying to bring the breed back from the brink of extinction. Chávez is crazy for all things Bolívar. He sees himself as the ideological son of the liberator. He changed the official title of the country to the “Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” in 1999. And he even likes to give a copy of Bolívar’s sword as gift to distinguished guests, as he recently did for Russian Tzar Godfather President Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. So backing a group named after Bolívar’s dog was probably a no brainer for the South American leader.

While the Nevado Foundation, which operates a breeding kennel for the dogs just outside of Caracas, only has about a dozen pups at the moment, now with the backing of Chávez’ government, they have high hopes. According to Nevado Foundation President Walter de Mendoza…

We want [Mucuchíes] to be known all around the country as a breed and as its historical legacy. We would like to have Mucuchíes even outside Venezuela. One of the plans we have is to have at least a couple of them in each embassy around the world as a symbol of our country.

source: PRI

And I’ll be the first in line to pet one!

A revolutionary drink

I met some friends for drinks last night at the Royale in el sur de la ciudad de San Luis (South St. Louis City). The place is known for its unusual cocktails, and there was one that immediately caught my eye: the Soulard Sling. One of the ingredients in this drink is Angostura bitters, a liquor which has an interesting place in Latin American history.

Angostura was developed by a German doctor named Johann Siegert in the early 1820s while he was living in Venezuela. He had moved to that country to help famed South American liberator Simón Bolívar fight against the Spanish crown and establish his Gran Colombia state. Bolívar was a creole from an aristocratic family, and he discovered the power of racism and oppression during a visit to Spain in his young adulthood. During that trip, he was stripped of his goods and put in jail basically for being a creole with nice stuff. In that one act, Spain had created their own worst enemy. Bolívar would help liberate five different South American countries, and he is still celebrated today in South America as the key to independence on the continent.

During Bolívar’s revolutionary days, Johann Siegert served as his Surgeon General at a military hospital in the city of Angostura, Venezuela—hence the name of the bitters. (By the way, the city of Angostura is now known as Ciudad Bolívar.) He was trying to develop a medicinal potion to use with his patients when he came up with a recipe for aromatic bitters instead. Shortly thereafter, he began exporting the stuff. And by 1850, Angostura was popular enough that Siegert resigned his military post to dedicate his time solely to manufacturing and selling his creation. Its production is still overseen by the Siegert family today.

Dr. Johann Siegert

As for the Soulard Sling, like Bolívar’s passion for South American independence and liberty, it was strong stuff. But like his dream for a unified South America, the drink fell apart for me by the end. Too much bitters is not a good thing.

Parques y Recreación

To the chagrin of the local cable company, I don’t watch much television. If it weren’t for DVDs and the occasional video game, I probably would have donated my ancient set long ago. However, I do enjoy watching Community these days, particularly because of Señor Chang.

But with that show on hiatus for a couple of weeks and with nothing else to do, I caught a bit of a show called Parks and Recreation last night instead. I noticed it because a. it takes place in my home state of Indiana and b. last night’s episode featured Amy Poehler’s parks director character welcoming government officials from her small Indiana town’s sister city in Venezuela. Like most tv comedies, I thought it was over the top. But SNL cast member Fred Armisen was hilarious as a Venezuelan parks official. Armisen’s mother, by the way, is actually of Venezuelan descent.

I planned on posting the Hulu video of the episode (“Sister City”) on here today, but I came to find out that it’s actually from last year and currently not available. But I did find this humorous clip on YouTube. In it, Armisen’s character witnesses “democracy” at a public parks meeting, and then he gives his assessment.

March Madness : Some Spanish Basketball Terms

Whether you call it baloncesto, básquetbol, or basketball, March is usually a pretty crazy month for the sport treated liked a religion in my home state of Indiana. In particular, the NCAA’s annual men’s championship tournament usually draws the attention of the majority of Americans during this time of year. And on the professional side, the NBA tries to spread passion for the game into the Latino and Hispanic market every March with Noche Latina, a celebration of Latin heritage held throughout the month at various NBA arenas.

Now the NBA’s efforts should come as no surprise. Almost every major sports league in the United States is tripping over themselves to draw in Hispanic and Latino fans. But considering the NBA’s almost fourfold increase in the number of Spanish, Hispanic, and Latino players in the league over the last couple of years—from 5 to almost 20—perhaps they are on to something. The Dallas Mavericks, for instance, have the first NBA player ever drafted from Mexico on their roster, Eduardo Nájera. And there are currently five Argentinians playing on various NBA teams. So one should expect that the total number of players from the Spanish-speaking world will continue to go up. In this month’s NCAA men’s tournament, for instance, the #4 seed in the Midwest Region, the University of Maryland Terrapins, are led by Greivis Vasquez, an important NBA prospect from Caracas, Venezuela. Hmm….I wonder who Hugo Chávez‘ favorite player in the NCAA is right now?

Vocabulario:

el tablero : backboard :: la canasta : basket

la red : net :: el aro : hoop

la cancha : court :: la línea de banda : sideline

la línea de tiro libre : free-throw line

la línea de tres puntos : three-point line

el balón : ball :: el jugador de baloncesto : basketball player

lanzar : to throw :: tirar : to shoot

saltar : to jump :: marcar : to cover

botar : to dribble :: bloquear : to block

Dancing Bears and Acrobats? Not in this Hugo Chávez Show

Loving Hugo Chávez’ bit from Auto-Tune the News #9 made me go back and watch an old episode of PBS’ Frontline I first saw last year. “The Hugo Chávez Show” documents Chávez’ rise from the military ranks and idealism of the Bolivarian movement to become President of Venezuela, all the while dancing like frenemies with the media. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in South America, international politics, or media history. Here’s a preview…

The program, which can be viewed in its entirety here in either English or Spanish, pays particular attention to Chávez’ weekly television program Aló Presidente. AP is an unusual show in many ways. First of all, it has no definite ending time. Chávez basically just talks and talks for however long he wants—usually around five hours. Mostly it is unscripted, so you never know when President Chávez is going to switch topics, a fact that has his cabinet on pins and needles throughout the program. Often Chávez will call on one of them out of nowhere—they’re all expected to attend each taping in its entirety—and grill them about the finer points of the Venezuelan state. Give the wrong answer and you might find yourself out of a cabinet post the next day. The location of the show also often changes. So you might as easily get Chávez preaching from a stage as singing in the streets of Caracas or taking a helicopter tour of a construction site.

(Chávez breaks into song.)

All this continues to be relevant for the Americas. Take the most recent flare up over the Falkland Islands, which the Argentines call las islas Malvinas. If you haven’t heard (which wouldn’t be surprising if, like me, you live in the sexy pork obsessed United States), a British oil company has started drilling operations near the islands recently. This lit up the Argentine government. While the islands are considered part of the United Kingdom by many governments and the vast majority of the islands’ inhabitants, Argentina has made claim to them ever since its independence from Spain. This led to a brief but nasty war in 1982 between Britain and Argentina that still simmers. Meanwhile, fellow South American Hugo Chávez is obvious about his feelings on the topic and uses his television program as a pulpit: Give them back, Queeny; the empire is over. Situations like this make me glad I don’t work in international relations.

Hugo Chávez (Auto) Tuned In

I hope you’re familiar with Auto-Tune the News…because it’s brilliant. A fun little side project by The Gregory Brothers, ATN consists of short videos that the band makes by running various politicians, celebrities, talking heads, and themselves through Auto-Tune software, which is a meant to correct pitch in song recordings. The process brings out the inner singer in folks like President Obama, Katie Couric, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and any number of Fox commentators and congressional members, as well as showcasing the sometimes ridiculous nature of political speech and commentary. My favorite is #5 (the following video), which was stuck in my head for months last year after it first came out. “It’s the sm-o-o-o-o-ke!”

But somehow I missed #9 until today, and boy was there a hole in life without it. The video starts with none other than Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez laying down a melody and displaying some fine air guitar. While Chávez is known for his often hours-long Sunday address/television program Aló Presidente, which currently has an archive of almost 350 episodes, I had no idea he had such a beautiful auto-tuned voice!