One Havana Night: The Story of Defiance Towards and Support of a Nation

Stephen CataneseCorrespondent ISeptember 7, 2008

They number five.

Four male.

One female.

All are outlaws. 

Hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines may be levied. 

10 years of jail time may be served. 

This is the penalty one may face for acting in direct opposition to the U.S. State department.

But, they didn't care.

They wore masks, much like the bandits of old westerns... hiding their faces behind bandannas so that they may not be readily identified. 

It may have been the single most defiant action in American fan culture. 

And it was a beautiful sight.


A brief history lesson that most should know, but may work as a refresher for those who have forgotten:

In 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew the Fulgenico Batista's essentially dictatorial Cuban government. 

The United States enjoyed the Batista government.

American business and influence flourished within Cuba (often the gambling industry, if you ever saw the Godfather) while Cuban exports, mainly sugar (the majority of which were owned by American entrepreneurs), sold to American businesses aplenty.

The Castro government?  Not so much.  Communists were the bad guys.  Castro was a Communist.  American and Cuban relations became icy.

American business interests were seized, assets were liquidated and Uncle Sam's presence in the land of Jose Contreras was reduced to the absolute value of zero.

The United States stopped buying Cuban sugar, providing resources to the island, and laid out an extensive travel embargo.

Nearly forty years later, these sanctions remain intact.


Baseball has always been at the heart of Cuban sports fans, while Cuba has also produced an impressive assortment of boxers... soccer, on the other hand, has had very little influence on Cuban society.

The Cuban national soccer team has only participated in one World Cup, a second round exit in 1938.

Since that span, Cuba has reached the final phase of CONCACAF (a really long acronym for the governing soccer association of North/Central American and the Caribbean) on only the rarest of occasion, never having reached the promised land of the World Cup.

In recent years, however, Cuba has had some respectable showings, often overshadowed by mass defections of talent.

In 2006, Cuba finished in 4th place in the CONCACAF Gold Cup (losing two players to defections, including rimsing MLS star Maykel Galindo).

This year, Cuba has already surpassed the mark that they reached four years ago.

By the grace of wonderful luck, Cuba was drawn into the same group as the United States.

Simply put, the USA does not play in Cuba more than once every, say, 20 years.

On Saturday, September 6th, it was "once."


Being a U.S. soccer fan isn't an easy endeavour.  Highlights are not shown on the 10 o'clock news.  Games aren't given any attention outside of the World Cup and a ten second sample on Sports Center.

Much like any other sport, the best way to view it is with other passionate fans.

With soccer, you have to do a little bit of searching.

They're around, you just have to find them.  It's kind of like searching for Waldo:  He's easy to spot, if you know where to look.

And they dress just as noticably as the illustrated icon.

Sports Illustrated writer extraordinaire Grant Wahl identified the five by their states of residence, in order to protect them from their own government:

Two from California.

Two from New York.

One from Colorado.

All Americans.

Americans who were denied the ability to legally travel a few dozen miles off of the coast of Florida to watch their team in action.

The reason, as given by the United States Soccer Association was:

"U.S. Soccer has been informed by the United States Department of Treasury (the United States Government agency of jurisdiction with respect to regulating travel to Cuba), that travel to Cuba for tourism or for the purposes of observing specific public performances, including sporting events, is prohibited under U.S. law."


They defied the order anyways.

I don't know how they got there, nor how they'll return.  It doesn't seem like it'd be an easy endeavour to secure tickets to a 17,000 seat facility and travel while circumventing American commercial airliners... but, they had the capital, the desire, and the gall to accomplish it.

The image adorning the top of this article shows them (minus one) in all of their glory, outnumbered 16,995-to-5.

It has a certain feeling of nostalgia to it, despite being only a few days old... one of those iconic images, like Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in a great act of defiance against and love for their country.

They're not breaking the law out of hate, it's out of love for a sport, a team, an ideal.

And they're setting an example.

They were not mugged after taking that photo.  The Cuban people did not assail the American devils for waving their pitch fork-like flags and wearing their Satanic odes to capitalism in the form of decorated scarves.

This isn't to say that the two sides held hands and sang hymns.  It's just to say that wearing a Cowboys jersey in Philadelphia on a Sunday in November is probably fraught with more danger in the stands than was felt within the Estadio Pedro Marrero.

It showed that there's more to the two cultures than the sum of their infantile leaders.  We can coexist and, at some point in the future, will be given the opportunity to do so.

Perhaps the "Cuba Cinco" were the trailblazers leading the way.


Oh yeah, the U.S.A. won 1-0.