The Last Crisis of Fidel Castro – Sports Defections

The Embassy

Exactly I don’t remember the year, of course, but I know that happened. When I was a teenager I was an admirer of Cuban Olympic athletes such as Mireya Luis (who was a spectacular volleyball player), Magaly Carvajal, and Alberto Juantorena. And that wasn’t all. My bedroom was turned into a “museum for Cuban sports”. On the wall there were a lot of photos about Cuba’s idols — from Mireya Luis Hernandez to Roberto Urrutia ( an athlete who has fled his country ). There were also enough books in my bookcase. It was a pretty strange experience.

Life is full of surprises. In those years, however, I learned more about Cuba than I could have ever learned in a University, discovering a world that was so different from my own.

Certainly my favorite day was when I went to the Cuban Embassy, in Lima, and diplomats gave me magazines and newspapers from Havana — Cuba Internacional, Granma, Bohemia, etc. Obviously I was really happy because I could read about my idols. During that time, I did not know nothing about politics.

My parents did not give me permission to go to the Embassy of the Cuban ( but I went to the Embassy anyway ). Not surprisingly. Why? In the latter half of the 20th century, Cuba had full ties with anti-democratic groups in Latin American, Africa and Asia. Apart from that, since 1959 Cuba has been ruled by two brothers — Fidel and Raúl Castro Ruz. Under Castro’s leadership, the island is one of the world’s most brutal dictatorships. On the other hand, in the 1970s and 1980s, the Cuban regime had sent thousands of books and newspapers to the Third World and other nations.

The “honeymoon” — with the Island — came to an end in the 1990s. This decade was a time when people in the Third World and Eastern Europe demanded civil rights, such as when in 1991 the USSR broke apart into 15 new independent states.

All the Dictator’s Athletes

Cuba is famous for its traditional music and beautiful scenery, but Cuba is also famous for its great Olympic champs. At the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, the Cuban team — which was strongly backed by the Soviet government – won 13 medals, including five percent of all gold produced by the Communist nations. For the first time the island had six Olympic champs. One of them was Alberto Juantorena, best known as the “horse”, who had trained by a Polish coach — about 80 percent of coaches in Cuba were from the German Democratic Republic ( GDR ), USSR other former Communist states.

Prior to Juantorena’s Canada trip, he competed in several international tournaments in the World Soviet and other nations. At the 1975 Pan American Games in Mexico City, he won a silver medal. Months later, Alberto Juantorena made history when won two golds in Montreal’76. Curiously Juantorena’s main rival, Mike Boit, a world-class runner from Kenya, could not compete because Africa boycotted the Olympics in Canada. In the mid-70s sports magazines were calling him “one of the best runners of the world” because of his international medals.

From Slavery to Freedom

But not all Cuban stories have been happy ones. For many reasons, the island is not an Olympic paradise. The facts speak for themselves. In the latter half of the 20th century, many athletes were used as a political propaganda tool by the Cuban dictatorship. Apart from that, between 1992 and 2008, many athletes married to foreigners to take the nationality of their husbands, for example Magdelin Martinez ( track & field / Italy ), Liliane Allen ( athletics / Mexico ), Magaly Carvajal ( volleyball / Spain ), Libania Grenot Martinez ( track & field / Italy ). At the same time, several athletes had defected in Europe and the Americas.

In 1993, I was really surprised when I read that thirty-nine athletes defected — one of the biggest problems in the island — during the Central American and Caribbean Games in Puerto Rico. In recent years, there were numerous defections — more than North Korea or Iran.

Cuban Defectors ( 2006 – 2009 )

Athlete…………………………………………………………….Defection

1. Aguelmis Rojas ( track & field )……………………..2009, Uruguay

2. Eder Roldan ( soccer )………………………………….2008, USA

3. Jose Manuel Miranda ( soccer )…………………….2008, USA

4. Erlys Garcia Baro ( soccer )……………………………2008, USA

5. Yenier Bermudez ( soccer )……………………………2008, USA

6. Yordany Alvarez ( soccer )……………………………..2008, USA

7. Leonni Prieto ( soccer )…………………………………2008, USA

8. Yendri Diaz ( soccer )…………………………………….2008,USA

9. Yurisel Laborde ( judo )……………………………….2008, USA

10. Guillermo Roberto Cabrera ( volleyball )……..2008, USA

11. Pedro Faife ( soccer )…………………………………..2008, USA

12. Reynier Alcantara ( soccer )…………………………2008, USA

13. Frank Casañas ( track & field )……………………2008, Spain

14. Luiz Felipe Meliz ( track & field )…………………..2007, Spain

15. Yuliane Rodriguez ( basketball )…………………2007, Chile

16. Osvaldo Alonso ( soccer )…………………………..2007, USA

17. Lester More ( soccer )………………………………..2007, USA

18. Rafael D’Acosta ( handball )………………………2007, Brazil

19. Michael Fernández Garcia ( cycling )………….2007, Brazil

20. Alexei Rodriguez ( baseball )……………………..2007, Dominican R.

21. Raydel Poey ( volleyball )……………………………2007, Bulgaria

22. Yasser Purtuondo ( volleyball )……………………2007, Bulgaria

23. Alexander Martinez ( track & field )……………….2006, Switzerland

24. Yunier Alvarez ( badminton )……………………….2006, Dominican R.

25. Kenny Rodriguez ( baseball )…………………….2006, Ecuador

26. Yan Barthelemy ( boxing )…………………………..2006, Venezuela

27. Odlanier Solis Forte ( boxing )……………………2006, Venezuela

28. Yuriorkis Gamboa ( boxing )………………………2006, Venezuela

29. Carlos Castillo ( handball )………………………2006, Dominican Republic

30. Julio Acosta ( handball )………………………..2006, Dominican Republic

31. Damaris Nay ( handball )……………………..2006, Dominican Republic

32. Isaura Medina ( badminton )…………………2006, Dominican Republic

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