All-Stars back countryman Miguel Cabrera on Venezuela crisis

MIAMI – Miguel Cabrera is missing from the All-Star Game for the first time in eight years. However, his presence looms large among his Venezuelan colleagues at the midseason showcase and among his aggrieved countrymen.

The two-time AL MVP, who has shied away from political statements throughout his Hall of Fame-worthy career, has joined the ranks of Venezuelan players speaking out against the rule of President Nicolas Maduro.

In a series of videos posted on his Instagram account, Cabrera denounced government corruption in Venezuela and the death threats on his family that prompted him to pay bribes, and he expressed support for the protesters who have taken to the streets in his native land.

 “The first advice I was given was not to get involved in politics and I never have,’’ Cabrera said in Spanish. “But right now we have to get involved, because they have kidnapped our country.

“I am tired of having to pay bribes. I am tired of hearing that they are going to kidnap my mother, and I don’t know whether it is a policeman or a bad guy, I don’t know who they are. All I know is if I don’t pay, those people disappear.’’

Cabrera, a four-time batting champion who’s immensely popular back home, is regarded with near-reverence by his Venezuelan peers. He’s the most prominent player to publicly express his disapproval of Maduro’s government amid the nation’s economic and political turmoil.

And he did it less than a week before Sunday’s unofficial referendum, organized by the opposition, in which Venezuelans will vote on Maduro’s plans to rewrite the constitution to expand his powers.

Cabrera decried a political system he says has turned into Communism, and publicly lent his support to the opposition.

“This is a greeting to the people of the resistance,’’ he said. “You are not alone. We will continue to support you.’’

Atlanta Braves outfielder Ender Inciarte, a first-time All-Star, and Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli have been among the Venezuelan major leaguers who have publicly voiced their dismay over the unrest and deteriorating conditions back home.

Luis Aparicio, Venezuela’s only Hall of Famer, publicly sided with the opposition as well. Aparicio skipped Tuesday’s pregame ceremony honoring Latin-born Hall of Famers, and in a Spanish-language tweet he said:

“Thanks @MLB for the tribute at the #ASG2017 but I can’t celebrate when young people in my country are dying fighting for freedom ideals.’’

Once one of South America’s most prosperous nations thanks to its ample supply of oil, Venezuela has been ravaged by shortages of basic necessities under Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chavez when the socialist president died in 2013.

In a June 29 Twitter post, Inciarte wondered why police and the military were not enforcing the constitution “instead of torturing Venezuelans.’’

“We don’t want to see people continue to lose their lives because of people who think differently than the rest of the country does,’’ Inciarte told USA TODAY Sports in Spanish. “I pray to God that the situation changes. This is going to be a crucial week to define the country’s future, and we hope things go well.’’

On Saturday, Maduro released opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez after a three-year incarceration as a political prisoner in what was regarded as a goodwill gesture toward his critics.

It’s unclear what impact that will have, but it’s unlikely to reduce the rampant crime and kidnappings that have become part of daily life in Venezuela. Last year, shortly before signing a $52.5 million contract extension, Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez endured the anguish of having his mother carjacked. She was eventually released unharmed.

Inciarte said he hasn’t dealt with such an ordeal or with bribes, but pointed out kidnappings are common in his native Maracaibo.

“I try to keep my family here (in the U.S.) as much as possible, but it’s tough to see what’s happening,’’ he said. “That’s all part of the corruption that prevails. When you see people calling to demand money under the threat of killing members of your family, that’s something no Venezuelan should have to experience.’’

An estimated 2 million Venezuelans have fled the country in the last 18 years, and census data show 40% of who moved to the U.S. settled in Florida, with a large number choosing the Miami area.

Chicago White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia, another first-time All-Star, is planning to follow suit and move his growing family to Miami. He said the decision wasn’t all that difficult because conditions back home are so dire.

“We have nothing in Venezuela now. It’s contradictory because it’s such a wealthy country, but there’s nothing available,’’ Garcia said, going on to list what he loves about his country. “The weather, the beaches, the food, the people. It’s perfect, except for the government.’’

Luis Aparicio, Venezuela’s only Hall of Famer, publicly sided with the opposition as well. Aparicio skipped Tuesday’s pregame ceremony honoring Latin-born Hall of Famers, and in a Spanish-language tweet he said:

“Thanks @MLB for the tribute at the #ASG2017 but I can’t celebrate when young people in my country are dying fighting for freedom ideals.’’

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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