The flight of Cuban baseball players: “They do it to survive”

“One always aspires to something better … I had to improve financially,” he justifies himself on the other end of the phone. Yandy yanes. Born in Camagüey 23 years ago, the young man is one of the twelve baseball players who have defected from Cuba in the last month, taking advantage of their participation in the U-23 World Cup held in Mexico.

The exodus of these types of athletes has been a constant for more than 30 years. However, we are facing an unprecedented rout. Not surprisingly, these twelve escapes leave the national team with half their players. “There is not a sport or a country with as much exodus as this one,” he warns Libertad Digital Francys Romero, Cuban journalist now exiled in Miami and author of The dream and the reality, a book that collects all the stories of the emigration of baseball from his country since 1960.

The origins of the exodus

That year, the regime of Fidel Castro ended the professional league, which caused many players to start looking for life in the US and other countries. “The issue of dropouts, which is what you ask me about, started a long time later, in 1991“explains Romero.

Taking advantage of a stopover in Miami, René Arocha decided to desert in search of new horizons and, without intending to, his flight marked the path of so many others who wanted to escape from the hell in which his beloved Cuba he had been converting. “I didn’t leave to play in the Major Leagues. I left because I wanted to be free.”explains the pitcher every time someone asks him about that episode.

Succeeding is not the important thing

And the truth is that, although each player has his own story, that is precisely the nexus of all those who decide to take this step. “They do not see a future or sports or life being in Cuba – sentence the author of The dream and the reality-. Many of them are aware that they will not get far and that they will probably not even be able to sign a professional contract, but they don’t care: they are not doing it to fulfill their dream, but to survive “.

Despite the fact that the regime has tried – and will try – to explain what happened due to the pressure from the talent scouts, Romero insists that the defectors’ own profile dismantles the official excuses and corroborates his explanation. “Many did not have contact with talent scouts, basically because most have no talent to reach the majors. Of the twelve players we are talking about, not even half, about four or five, have the potential to win a professional contract“, says the journalist.

So the players fled

In most cases, those who help them are not professionals, but friends or family with whom they easily contact through social networks: “Before they did not have cell phones, there was no Internet and they had no communication with the outside , but now with two or three messages they can agree with someone how to escape from a hotel“.

Of the 12 players who defected between September 21 and October 3, one did so in the same Mexico Federal District airport, where he just vanished into the crowd. The rest, they did in the vicinity of the Quality Inn hotel in Obregón, Yaquis Stadium and Hermosillo Inn hotel, where different cars were waiting to help them fulfill their purpose.

The future of the deserters

Although this newspaper has tried to contact all of them, none have wanted to speak. Only Yanes answers our questions, but he measures each of his words and tries to downplay what happened, as if say goodbye to everything one has -including parents and wife- and fleeing in the middle of an international competition was not so transcendent as to deserve an explanation.

“When one leaves, the first months are very complicated. They are afraid and do not want to talk much,” Romero excuses them. Contrary to what one might think, the most difficult thing for these players is not fleeing, but what is to come. To begin with, they need someone to help them financially for at least the first year: “Some will try to stay in Mexico and, for that, they have to request new documentation, which can take up to 18 months. Others will ask political asylum in the US, where they will try to relaunch their career, but that is not easy either. “

The journalist is convinced that there will be players who try to enroll in university to try to take advantage of the famous sports scholarships that characterize the American educational system. However, remember that the number of athletes they select is very limited, so “it is likely that for many their careers have ended in the U-23 World Cup.”

The “violence” of the regime

Still, all of them are willing to take the risk. And to understand it, according to Romero, it is essential to assume the delicate situation that exists in Cuba. “Ten years ago things were also difficult, but not to the extent that it has reached now,” he warns. Along with the economic problems, the journalist assures that “there is a lot of violence, and not only physical, but also psychological“.

His testimony only corroborates the diagnosis of the promoters of the new demonstration that will tour Cuba on November 15 and that they warn that “the regime is finished, but it is more violent than ever”. Precisely for this reason, Romero, whose own history is also a history of emigration, assures that, if he ever returns to his country, he will only be visiting.

In search of freedom

Journalist came to Miami five years ago to participate in a congress on Latin American studies: “I took my book as a project and I decided to stay and not return to Cuba.” In 2020, he got a Mexican publisher to publish it for him. If he had stayed on the island, it would have been unthinkable, because there “everything related to the exodus is a forbidden subject.”

However, the significance of that publication goes beyond fulfilling his dream as a writer, because if Romero has achieved something by leaving his native Cuba, it is precisely that freedom that his compatriots yearn for. “The freedom that I have right now does not exist in Cuba. There I would not have been able to live off my trade, nor would I have been able to publish a book about emigrants, because everything is governed by a political banner, “he laments. In fact, his parents -who continue to live on the island- have not been able to read the work of the one that Romero is deeply proud of.

Today, his life has changed substantially. “When I graduated, a journalist in Cuba earned around $ 30 a month. In these alternative pages in which I now collaborate, one earns for a job the same salary that is charged there in a month, “he explains to LD. And it is not only an economic issue: “The professional differences are also overwhelming, because if you work for the organs of the regime you have to abide by their editorial parameters.”

Like so many others, the journalist continues to dream of change. He resists giving it up for lost. And, although his words reveal a certain disappointment, he trusts that this massive desertion of athletes will serve to make the whole world aware of the despair of the Cuban people: “Emigrating has gone from being an option to being an obligation if you want to be free”.