At least nine of the 24 players on Cuba’s national baseball team defected during a tournament in Mexico, the Cuban dictatorship confirmed on Sunday. The case is one of the biggest dropouts suffered by a Cuban sports team while playing abroad.
The team played in the Under-23 Baseball World Cup. Cuban officials described the actions as “vile abandon” in a note posted on the island’s National Sports Institute website on Sunday.
Cuban baseball players are often recruited by Americans who want to sign them to play for US teams, but relations between the two countries impede a regular hiring process, reported NPR.
In 2018, Cuba signed an agreement with Major League Baseball, the professional baseball league of the United States, to normalize sports relations. But the agreement was then rescinded by the government of then US President Donald Trump, pushing the island’s communist regime to implement political changes.
Cuban authorities blamed the cancellation of this agreement for the situation of players leaving the national team. “We insist that the annulment [desse acordo] closes the doors to the safe and orderly insertion of our athletes in this circuit, threatens the well-being and tranquility of the Cuban family and conditions [os aspirantes a passar] for humiliating and discriminatory treatment, which involves giving up their nationality and taking risks for their lives,” says a statement published Monday on the portal of the official sports body of the Cuban regime.
The note also states that the Trump administration, by annulling the agreement, sought to present players who leave the island to play in the US “as part of its campaign of discredit against Cuba”.
The rest of the baseball team returned to Cuba on Monday. The team lost Saturday’s championship bronze medal match against Colombia in the Mexican state of Sonora.
Cuba has a long history of athletes who flee when they go to compete in other countries, trying to escape the bad conditions of life in the country ruled by the Castro dictatorship.
Recently, baseball player César Prieto, one of the stars of the sport in Cuba, deserted the team while playing in the US state of Florida in a qualifying championship for the Olympics.
Cuba faces a worsening economic crisis, with shortages of medicines and food, which prompted thousands of Cubans to protest in the streets of the country in July, in one of the biggest demonstrations against the regime in decades.