HAVANA, Cuba -- Meet Manuel Díaz Rodríguez.
He’s a Cuban who has lived his entire life here, and yet he showed up wearing an American flag, a U.S. flag bandana and a knockoff U.S. national team jersey at today’s World Cup qualifier between the U.S. and Cuba at Estadio Pedro Marrero.
“I love American sports,” he told me in Spanish. “In the Olympics I was very happy with the eight gold medals of Michael Phelps. It was a shame that Tyson Gay wasn’t selected from the American trials [in the 200 meters] and was injured in China. And in basketball I wanted the U.S. to win in the final.”
Díaz Rodríguez says that his love of American sports even got him put in jail last year.
“I like freedom, and I am not afraid of fighting for it. A year ago I was in jail for 32 days. You are going to laugh when I tell you why. It was for having a satellite antenna in my house. I had it, but I have no interest in politics for anything. I just love sports.”
“With my antenna I can see all the American sports. All of them. You can see Tiger Woods in golf, you can see the NBA, you can see major league baseball. I love tennis. Just now I know that Roger Federer beat Novak Djokovic and advanced to the final [of the U.S. Open].”
Díaz Rodríguez said that “after a lot of work” he located a guy in his neighborhood who owned a U.S. flag, and he convinced him to lend it to him for today’s game. “The problem is that I love freedom and they give us very little in this country,” he said. “I dressed this way today, and when I left [for the stadium] many friends told me, ‘You are crazy! You are going to have problems at the stadium!’ But no. I came here and I am having fun.”
Who did he want to win the game between Cuba and the United States? “I want the U.S. to win so they [the Cuban federation] worry a little more and do not hesitate to do more with Cuban soccer. Cuban athletes in general are very good, but what happens in soccer is disgraceful. In this country we don’t have a single field that has the same condition [as this stadium does].”
When I asked Díaz Rodríguez if he was O.K. with me publishing his name and his photograph, he said it was no problem. And was he worried about the police? “I don’t have any fear,” he said. “I like freedom. After I was in jail they fined me 800 pesos and said that every year they want 30,000 pesos more.”
“And I am not going to pay. I don’t know what will happen, but I am not going to pay.”