CUBAN BASEBALL PLAYERS DEFECT DURING TOURNAMENT IN MEXICO
nine young Cuban baseball players have defected during a tournament in Mexico,
officials say, in the largest defection of Cuban athletes in years.
officials called the players’ actions during the World Cup for athletes under
the age of 23 “vile abandonments”, state media report.
of the team, which originally had 24 players, will return on Monday.
athletes have a long history of defecting while competing abroad.
players often leave to sign up with Major League Baseball (MLB) clubs in the
US, as strained relations between the US and Cuba prevent them from taking part
in a regular hiring process.
statement by Cuba’s National Sports Institute, published on the official JIT
website and quoted by the Associated Press news agency, did not name the
players who had stayed in Mexico.
journalist Francys Romero said a total of 12 players had defected.
that allowed some Cuban players to sign with MLB clubs was cancelled by
President Donald Trump in 2018, in an attempt to pressure the island’s
Communist government to implement political changes. The agreement meant
athletes no longer had to abscond and leave Cuba illegally.
of high-profile sportsmen and women from Cuba is nothing new – but is always an
indication of the extent of the problems at home. And if this latest round of
pitchers, batters and catchers to flee their hotel in Mexico is anything to go
by, economic conditions on the island are especially acute at present.
defection is of particular frustration and embarrassment to the Cuban
authorities not only for the number of players to defect at once, but also
their ages. In their early 20s, they represented the future of Cuban baseball,
charged with returning Cuba to the top after the island failed to qualify for
the Olympics in Tokyo 2020 for the first time in its history.
the government responded by attacked the players for being “weak” in
morals and ethics. However, its main criticism was for the US for maintaining
the decades-long economic embargo while offering such lucrative contracts that
the cream of Cuban baseball can hardly refuse. Cuba also accuses the MLB of
engaging in practices tantamount to human-smuggling in order to bring the
players to the US.
The truth is, however, as long as those multi-million dollar contracts and endorsements are available just 90 miles (145km) away from Cuba, defection will remain a sorely tempting option for any aspiring baseball star on the increasingly impoverished island.
recent high-profile player to defect was 22-year-old César Prieto, one of the
country’s top baseball stars, who abandoned the team earlier this year while in
Florida for an Olympics qualifying event.
dancers and footballers are also among athletes who have fled during major
Cuba is in the midst of an economic crisis, with food and medicine shortages, and has been hit hard by US sanctions and Covid-19. In July, thousands of people joined the biggest anti-government protests in the island for decades.