Half of the Cuban men’s field hockey team at the Pan American Games in Toronto defected to the United States, a player and sources close to the Cuban delegation said.
The sources said eight of the 16 Cuban players had deserted, while team member Roger Aguilera put the number at seven, just the latest in a rash of Cuban defections across several sports.
“Everyone knows what happened to our team, we have seven of them in the United States,” said Aguilera, after the decimated Cubans were hammered 13-0 by Trinidad and Tobago.
Short of manpower, Cuba could only field eight players instead of the standard 11 plus five substitutes.
They are not the first Cubans to defect during the Pan Am Games, after four rowers disappeared last week, including silver medalist Orlando Sotolongo.
It is not uncommon for Cuban athletes to defect, with baseball, boxing and volleyball — sports where Cuban stars can command big salaries internationally — particularly hard hit.
At the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, eight members of the Cuban delegation defected.
In January 2013, Cuba eliminated legal barriers to foreign travel, but that did not end the defections of artists and athletes, who remain susceptible to the lure of higher pay abroad.
In an attempt to stem the losses, Cuba raised salaries of athletes, and began allowing them to sign contracts with foreign clubs.
But the defections have continued, including at this month’s football Gold Cup, despite a historic thaw in ties between communist Cuba and the United States.
Cuban-American lawmakers this week criticized the Cuban government for subjecting many of its people to starvation conditions on the island, while Fidel Castro’s son Antonio gets to live the life of a playboy during a vacation on the Mediterranean Sea.
The lawmakers were reacting to recent reports that show Antonio Castro hanging out with his friends on a yacht and in a posh hotel in Turkey.
One report showed Antonio Castro living it up on a shady dock with several of his friends.
Another report from late June said Castro’s bodyguards attacked some photographers in the district of Bodrum, Turkey. “Staying at a five-star hotel in Bodrum, Castro went to have dinner at a restaurant Wednesday night with his 12-person accompaniment, including Turkish friends and bodyguards,” that report said.
“While the people of Cuba are denied the most basic of freedoms, are forced to live in extreme poverty, and lack food and medical attention, the Castro family enjoys lavish luxury vacations without a thought for the languishing Cuban citizens,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said in a statement to the Washington Examiner. “The Castro dynasty has amassed great wealth that it has stolen from the people of Cuba and will now continue to reap the benefits of the Obama administration’s concessions that will fill Castro’s coffers.”
Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J., another Cuban-American lawmaker who is the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, said he agrees that the Castro family has fleeced the Cuban people.
“The Cuban people are suffering daily without access to proper food or basic necessities while the Castro children sun themselves on a 50 foot yacht surrounded by the wealth they gained on the backs of poor Cuban people,” he said.
Many Republicans and even some Democrats have criticized President Obama’s attempt to reach out to Cuba, even though Cuba has made no promises to boost human rights or ease harsh restrictions on political discourse in Cuba.
To reach a deal allowing both countries to re-establish diplomatic relations with each other, the Obama administration had to take Cuba off the state sponsors of terrorism list. And on Monday, Cuba’s foreign minister said further progress will depend on the U.S. giving back the Guantanamo Bay naval base to Cuba and ending its trade embargo.
Foreign Minster Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla also said the U.S. shouldn’t be looking for changes in Cuba at all.
“The president of the United States can continue using his executive powers to pay a significant contribution to the dismantling of the blockade — not to pursue changes in Cuba, something that falls under our exclusive sovereignty — but to attend to the interests of U.S. citizens,” he said as he stood next to Secretary of State John Kerry.
If Secretary of State John Kerry is serious when he claims that the Obama Administration will keep pressing for democracy and human rights in Cuba, this is the least he should do: invite Cuban dissidents to the flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Havana when he travels for the historic event there on Aug. 14.
It sounds like a trivial gesture, but it’s not. Cuba’s dictatorship — yes, even those of us who don’t oppose the reestablishment of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic ties must call it for what it is — refuses to have direct contact or even participate in events attended by peaceful oppositionists.
Anybody in Cuba who dares to organize with others to demand free elections or freedom of speech is considered a “U.S. mercenary,” and is officially treated as a non-person. When foreign embassies celebrate their national holidays and decide to invite dissidents, the Castro regime sends pro-government artists or state-salaried “intellectuals,” but no government officials.
For the Obama administration, inviting Cuban dissidents such as the Ladies in White or other well-known peaceful opponents to the Aug. 14 U.S. flag-raising at the embassy in Havana — scheduled to be attended by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez — would be proof that it’s not bluffing when it says that it will maintain its commitment to democracy and human rights in Cuba.
It would also be a way for Obama to correct the mistake he made in breaking a longstanding U.S. promise to peaceful opponents that Washington would not make a deal with the Cuban regime without consulting with them. Cuba’s opposition was caught by surprise by Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement of the U.S.-Cuba normalization talks, and lost political clout internally by not being able to claim even a minor role in their outcome.
In a telephone interview from Cuba, well-known Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas told me that, so far, neither he nor any fellow peaceful opponent he knows has been invited to the Aug. 14 ceremony. If Kerry invites dissidents, it would be the first time in his memory that the Cuban government and opponents would mingle in a social event, he said.
“It would be a step forward,” Fariñas told me. “The U.S. government would send a signal that despite the fact that they didn’t take into account the opinion of most oppositionists when they negotiated this, they still support Cuban democrats and democracy.”
He added, “and if Cuban officials don’t attend, the whole world will know which side is the intolerant side.”
Some Cuban dissidents have a bad feeling about the timing of Kerry’s trip because it coincides with a long-scheduled Aug. 12-18 summit of Cuba’s internal opposition and Cuban exiles in Puerto Rico, which will be attended by most dissident leaders, including Fariñas. The U.S. State Department knew about the Puerto Rico meeting long ago because it helped the Cuban dissidents get U.S. visas to attend it, they say.
Could it be that Kerry timed his visit to Cuba so as not to coincide with Cuba’s internal opposition leaders, and avoid an early confrontation with the Cuban regime that could spoil his diplomatic fiesta, some dissidents ask. Others say Kerry has no excuse not to invite oppositionists, because there are 11 members of the peaceful opposition – including Oscar Elias Biscet and Marta Beatriz Roque – who are barred from traveling abroad, and will thus be on the island that day.
Asked whether Kerry will invite dissidents to the flag-raising ceremony in Havana, a State Department spokeswoman emailed me that “we are working on the itinerary for the Secretary’s trip… and we have not yet determined the lists of invitees for the different possible events.”
My opinion: Not inviting the dissidents to the main ceremony would be a major mistake, and it would make a travesty of Obama’s stated commitment to continue pressing for fundamental freedoms in Cuba.
Obama has often said — rightly — that after five decades of a U.S. policy of confrontation that hasn’t worked, it’s time to try something new, and engage with the Cuban regime. But he has always added that the new engagement with Cuba “will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms.”
Well, the first part of his plan has already been carried out, and he has already engaged with the Cuban dictatorship. Now, it’s time to engage — or re-engage — with Cuba’s peaceful opposition.
In “The New Era Begins With Cuba” (editorial, July 21), you acknowledge: “It would be naïve to expect that the Cuban government, a dynastic police state, will take big steps in the near future to liberalize its centrally planned economy, encourage private enterprise or embrace pluralistic political reforms. In fact, in the face of potentially destabilizing change and high expectations at home, Cuban officials may be tempted to tighten state controls in the short term.” That, in fact, is what has been occurring since President Obama’s Dec. 17announcement of a policy change, and, given the regime’s totalitarian proclivity and apparatus, the state’s repression of dissidents and civil society, and its control over the lion’s share of the island’s economy, it is likely to continue into the distant future. As an academic and policy consultant specializing in Cuba, I came to the conclusion several years ago that the United States faced a moral and political conundrum in its Cuba policy: how to help the Cuban people without helping the Castro regime. Unfortunately, the president’s new engagement policy now makes the United States complicit in propping up the regime both economically and politically, while leaving Cuban society even more isolated and defenseless vis-à-vis the all-powerful, coercive state. If so, we are “back to the future,” whereby Washington coddled or looked the other way toward the Somoza, Trujillo and Batista dictatorships in Latin America — only in the case of today’s Cuba, the longevity of the regime may now be assured. EDWARD GONZALEZ Malibu, Calif.
The writer is professor emeritus of political science at U.C.L.A.
Truth be told, The Scrapbook leans toward agnosticism on the question of diplomatic relations with Cuba, which were broken off in 1961 and restored last week, with much fanfare, by the Obama administration. Since 1977, the United States has had an “interests section” in Havana that is larger than some of our embassy complexes around the world, and the Cubans have had an “interests section” inside the Swiss embassy in Washington. With luck, from our perspective, a bigger and better American embassy will mean a bigger and better CIA station in Havana.
Nor will the “normalization” of relations mean very much beyond words—and, perhaps, a partial relaxation of the economic embargo. The Washington Post ran a long story on the ceremonial reopening of the Cuban embassy, which featured remarks by the visiting Cuban foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, largely composed of a lengthy complaint about the Platt Amendment (1901), which once governed U.S.-Cuban relations and was repealed 81 years ago. If we needed a reminder that the aging Castro regime is still very much in charge on that unhappy island, Señor Rodriguez’s bumptious speech provided it.
What intrigued The Scrapbook was the Post story by Karen DeYoung. For some reason, it failed to mention that among the Americans in attendance at the ceremony was the famous actor Danny Glover, whose perspective on the subject may be summarized by his view that “one of the main purveyors of violence in this world has been this country”—and by “this country,” of course, he does not mean Cuba.
More interesting still was the photograph that accompanied the Post story, showing a middle-aged woman holding aloft a heart-shaped sign that read “To Cuba With Love.” Here is the Post caption, in its entirety: “Medea Benjamin of Washington joined those celebrating the raising of the flag at the 16th Street mansion that houses the Cuban Embassy.”
As The Scrapbook feels constrained to point out, “Medea Benjamin of Washington”—actually, Susan is her real name—is no ordinary citizen with a casual interest in foreign policy but the ubiquitous, customarily screaming, face of Code Pink, the all-woman, hard-left political organization best known for its affinity for totalitarian regimes, and for shouting down American public figures ranging from Condoleezza Rice to Barack Obama.
It is no surprise that Medea Benjamin would be publicly demonstrating her fealty to the Communist dictatorship in Cuba. What is surprising is that the Post should have failed to mention—indeed, seems to have deliberately omitted—the better-known names among the handful of enthusiasts who appeared at the reopened Cuban embassy last week.
Or perhaps not. The last time The Scrapbook saw Karen DeYoung was in 1978, when she was hanging out with Strobe Talbott in the lobby of the Havana Riviera Hotel. Karen DeYoung is now senior national security correspondent for the Washington Post, and Strobe Talbott is president of the Brookings Institution. The revolution has come home.
Exactly three years ago, prominent Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá was traveling in a Hyundai sedan from Havana to Santiago de Cuba along with three other people when the car struck a patch of gravel and veered off the road, striking a tree and killing him and one other passenger. At least that’s the Cuban government’s official version of events, and it’s one that Payá’s family and the driver of the car have never accepted. They believe the Hyundai was rammed by a government car and forced off the road.
A new report published Wednesday from the Human Rights Foundation, an advocacy group, assembles the evidence in the Payá case. And while it doesn’t conclusively prove that the activist was assassinated by the Cuban government, it presents a damning case that Havana is, at the very least, trying to cover up what happened on the road from Havana to Santiago de Cuba.
The report comes as the United States and Cuba have embarked on a historic rapprochement, symbolized by the opening this week of each nation’s embassy in the other’s capital. It’s a major diplomatic achievement for the White House, one that might put to bed one of the vestigial conflicts of the Cold War. Critics of the diplomatic opening have long argued that it does nothing to improve the human rights situation on the island, and Wednesday’s report documents the extent of Cuba’s mechanisms of repression.
At the time of his death, Payá was arguably Cuba’s most prominent dissident. He was a champion of the Varela Project, a draft bill that proposed a referendum for Cubans to decide on how to best secure their basic rights. Payá won the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2002. Yoani Sánchez, the dissident writer, described his death as a tragedy for Cuba as “a dramatic loss for its present and an irreplaceable loss for its future.”
Travelling with Payá, who was the head of the Christian Liberation Movement, were three other people: the driver, Ángel Carromero, the youth wing leader of Spain’s People’s Party; Jens Aron Modig, then-chairman of Sweden’s Young Christian Democrats; and Harold Cepero, a Cuban pro-democracy activist. Carromero and Modig survived the crash. The two Cubans in the car died. Modig claims he was asleep when the crash happened, so what happened next depends on the testimony of Carromero.
In its investigation of the crash, Cuban authorities placed the blame entirely on Carromero for driving the Hyundai too fast. When he hit a patch of gravel on the road, he abruptly stepped on the brakes, causing the car to skid off the road. Shortly after the crash, the Cuban government broadcast a video of Carromero corroborating this sequence of events. Carromero was convicted for vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison. Transferred to Spain in late 2012, Carromero now says he was coerced into making that video.
According to repeated public statements by Carromero, what actually happened on July 22, 2012, was that a car, likely belonging to Cuban authorities, rammed the Hyundai, causing the driver to lose control and the car to careen off the road. In the chaos that followed, Carromero lost his cell phone, but Modig managed to hold on to his. While at the hospital, Modig sent text messages to friends in Sweden saying that Carromero told him that the car they had been traveling in had been forced off the road.
Cuban authorities pounced on Carromero while he was still in the hospital. While drugged, according to the report, Carromero was approached by agents who informed him of the state’s version of events and forced him to sign a confession backing their account. He was then held in a filthy prison and effectively denied access to counsel.
There are other reasons to doubt the Cuban government’s version of events. Payá’s supporters claim to have collected witness testimony backing Carromero’s account that there was a second car on the road that day and that it was a red Lada. A technical analysis of photographs from the crash site cited in the report indicated that it had been tampered with. Payá’s family was never formally informed by the government of his death.
If Cuban government agents were in fact behind Payá’s death, it remains unclear what their motive was. Did they intend to kill him by ramming his car? Or was the crash a case of intimidation gone wrong? We will likely never know.
Unsurprisingly, the Human Rights Foundation report on Payá’s death finds the Cuban government in violation of several aspects of international law, among them a right to a fair trial, prohibitions against forced confessions, and a family’s right to know the truth.
Cuba and the United States are now embarking on a new phase in their relationship, with President Barack Obama’s administration betting that a policy of openness will deliver what decades of antagonism haven’t: Concrete improvements in the political and civil rights of Cuban citizens. Payá’s case illustrates just how urgent that bet is.
Visit Cuba – it’s the perfect holiday destination for poverty fetishists
Since last December, when officials from Cuba and the United States announced that the two countries, locked in a Cold War stand-off for 54 years, would seek to normalize relations, the tourist industry has been admonishing us to travel to Cuba ‘before it changes’.
Despite Cuba’s listless youth being well-versed in American culture – be it the latest fashions, pop songs or movies – on the surface Cuba remains stuck in a time warp. For tourists, the museum piece aspect of Cuba is a big part of the appeal. Thus visitors to Havana can go for a ride in a Cadillac, take in the neo-classical architecture (along with the smoke from a good cigar) and sip a mojito at Ernest Hemingway’s old drinking spot.
But hurry, the tourist brochures scream, the Yankees will soon be coming to spoil it all!
As a strategy to boost Cuba’s bourgeoning tourist industry, this ploy appears to be working. Cuba saw a 14 per cent jump in the number of tourists visiting the island from January to May this year, no doubt partly attributable to the calls from travel magazines to head to the island before Starbucks and McDonalds pop up everywhere.
I hate chain stores as much as the next concerned member of the middle classes, but one does wonder what exactly it is that affluent westerners want to preserve about communist Cuba. Over the past five years, I have spent about a year of my life in Cuba, so have seen a great deal of its ‘authentic’ side. Aside from the police repression and intellectual wasteland (there is one newspaper and state television brooks no dissent) the Cuba I have experienced is one of dirt, scarcity and rampant prostitution.
It is the last of these which is the most galling. Cuba’s command economy is unable to provide a basic standard of living for its people, so in order to survive, most Cubans must find an income source to top up their state salary. For those fortunate enough to have relatives in the United States or Europe, help comes in the form of dollar remittances. For those less fortunate, the only way to make some extra cash or eat a decent meal can often be to sell their body to a – usually much older – European or Canadian tourist.
This reality hits you as soon as you step inside a restaurant or hotel in Havana. In every direction are girls who look no more than 16 accompanied by sagging and pale tourists approaching pension age. For at least some of these western tourists who flock to Cuba each year, the failure of communist economics has been the greatest boon to their sex lives since Sir Simon Campbell accidentally stumbled across the formula for Viagra. These decrepit lotharios often look like something the Caribbean Sea has puked up; but it hardly matters, for if you are a poor Cuban, all you see is the next meal (and if you are really lucky, marriage and a ticket off the island).
Arthur Koestler once referred to pro-Soviet communists in the rich world as voyeurs, peeping through a hole in the wall at history while not having to experience it themselves. The Stalin Society is a lot smaller today (though you can still find the Cuba Solidarity stall at Labour party conference) but the mindset persists: Cubans are the unwilling participants in a communist experiment, there mainly for affluent westerners to gawk at and, when the ‘chemistry’ is right (i.e. when you’ve paid for everything) to take back to the hotel room.
Of course, the resorts in Varadero that most tourists visit are about as ‘authentically’ Cuban as a Soho restaurant’s ‘authentically Chinese’ sweet-and-sour chicken. Step outside of the official tourist route and one soon sees the real Cuba. It is here, amidst the prostitutes and the elderly people rummaging through bins in central Havana, that one starts to understand why many Cubans might like a few branches of McDonalds in their country. Cheap plastic food is, after all, a good deal better than no food at all.
So yes, it is true that American commerce and tourism might ‘ruin’ Cuba; but only the Cuba that exists for the aesthetic pleasure of certain sections of the European and American middle class. If that sounds like you, it’s probably time you stopped fetishising poverty and desperation.
Back in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro wrote a letter to Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev urging him to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States.
Fortunately for the U.S. and the entire World, Khrushchev rejected his Cuban puppet request.
This maniac dictator and his brother, who wanted to cause the death of million of innocent Americans, are still in power in Cuba.
Many people keep talking about the ‘new Cuba’, but they ignore the fact that the same old dictators are in power.
President Barack Obama’s overtures to Cuba really kicked into high gear recently with the official re-opening of embassies in Havana and Washington.
But re-establishing diplomatic relations after more than half a century isn’t a cure-all. Washington and Havana are still divided on many fronts, such as the ongoing US embargo, Cuba’s poor treatment of dissidents on the island and the prison at Guantanamo Bay, though White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday the administration was close to a deal for shuttering the prison.
And here’s one more thing that hasn’t changed: Cuban athletes are defecting whenever they can.
Just in the past few weeks, several Cuban athletes have left their teams in the middle of competitions. Two baseball players and four rowers who were part of the Cuban delegation to the Pan American Games in Canada bolted.
And here in the US, Cuba’s national soccer team started losing members almost as soon as it arrived to take part in the Gold Cup tournament.
The team started with 23 players. They finished with 19 — one more than the minimum allowed by tournament rules — after four players defected one by one.
The unscheduled departures put added pressure on the team, as it struggled in early action. Cuba lost 6-0 to Mexico, followed by a 2-0 loss to Trinidad.
By the time of a decisive game against Guatemala, three players were no longer there.
Somehow, the Cubans rallied to beat Guatemala 1-0, which was enough to qualify the team for a quarterfinal match against the US.
At the end of the Guatemala game, the best player on the Cuban team, midfielder Ariel Martinez, started crying in the middle of the field. Then he defected as well.
“At the end of the game, I felt really nostalgic leaving my teammates behind, they’re like brothers to me,” Martinez later told Univision. “And I cried like a child because I’m leaving a lot behind in Cuba. My mom, my grandmother, my brothers. But I have a dream, and I want to make it come true. I don’t know how it’s going to go, but my new career playing soccer in the US starts today.”
Cuba’s coach Raul Gonzalez tried to minimize the blow to the team.
“Look, everyone can see what’s happened here,” he said at a press conference. “I’m not going to dwell on it. It is what it is, just as you can see for yourself. This is a sporting event, it’s not supposed to be political.”
But the pressure on the team continued to mount ahead of the quarterfinal clash with the United States. The Americans crushed Cuba with a decisive 6-0 victory, eliminating the Cubans from the tournament.
Later, US coach Jurgen Klinsmann congratulated the Cuban squad for getting as far as it did, given the circumstances.
“They deserved to be in that quarterfinal,” Klinsmann told reporters. “They did a tremendous job. What the coaching staff is going through on that team is unthinkable for us. So again, huge compliments to them for what they achieved.”
Cuban athletes are still tempted to defect because the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” US policy is still in effect. The rule stipulates that a Cuban who sets foot on US soil is allowed to stay, while Cubans intercepted at sea are sent back right away.
Cuba has tried to stop defections by allowing some athletes to play abroad on special contracts. But those deals also give the Cuban government a cut on the athlete’s earnings. You can see why that’s not popular with players.
So despite the new era in US-Cuba relations, I’m betting Cuban sports stars will keep defecting for some time to come.
Time has published a new special edition that will be at supermarket checkout counters and bookstores through Sep. 11: Inside the New Cuba: Discovering the Charm of a Once-Forbidden Island: The People, The Culture, The Paradise.
The glossy magazine mentions some of the continuing political oppression inside the communist dictatorship, but focuses on the island’s picturesque attractions, touts its many cultural attractions, and celebrates the thaw in U.S-Cuban relations formally announced by U.S. President Barack Obama in late 2014.
At times, the Time special strives to downplay Cuba’s grim political reality. Cuban exiles, writes Karl Vick, “came to dominate the U.S. view of Cuba for the next half-century, defining Castro’s regime as totalitarian and the Cuban people as victims.” He adds: “There was no shortage of facts supporting that view,” but says that “in retrospect, the Cold War only framed what was at heart a neighborhood grudge match.” He notes that Internet access unavailable, and “[e]very block has its Committee for the Defense of the Revolution to inform on the neighbors.”
The highlights likeliest to attract American interest spill across the pages: a visit to Ernest Hemingway’s “haunts,” a tour of Havana’s night clubs, a guide to cigars, and a section on Cuban baseball. (Defections by Cuban athletes continued this month: one of the non-defectors said: “I hope they’re happy. They have left something beautiful behind, which is socialism and our country’s dignity. Let them do what they can in other countries. We will continue doing what we can for the revolution.”) A section on art features brightly-colored propaganda mosaics.
There is, of course, the chance that Cuba really will change–if the Obama administration decides to apply pressure, which it has largely declined to do, or–more likely–once the Castro brothers go the way of all flesh.
Time‘s writers seem preoccupied with a different kind of change–namely, the prospect of thousands of rich American tourists arriving and demanding creature comforts that will ruin the island’s charm. That might be a price that Cuba’s people might well be willing to pay, if it also brings prosperity, openness and freedom.