Cuban baseball player defects after arriving in Florida

Author: Associated Press
Published: Updated:
Several Cuban baseball players walk on the field during a break from the training session at the Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. A little over a week after the start of the Las Americas Baseball Pre-Olympic in Florida, the Cuban team does not have visas to travel to the United States. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

The Cuban Baseball Federation confirmed Wednesday night that one of the players on the national team defected a few hours after the squad arrived in Florida to participate in a qualifying tournament for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The organization identified the player as César Prieto, 22.

“His decision, contrary to the commitment made to the people and the team, has generated disdain among his peers and other members of the delegation,” the federation said.

The team arrived in Florida after months of struggling to obtain U.S. visas, for which the players filed applications in three other countries due to U.S. sanctions that prevented the U.S. Consulate in Havana from issuing the documents.

The permits were finally delivered Tuesday under a special effort made by the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

Eight nations – Cuba, the United States, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Colombia and Canada – will be battling for one spot in the six-team Tokyo Olympic baseball tournament. The tournament runs from May 31 to June 5 in West Palm Beach and Port St. Lucie, but exhibition matches are scheduled before that.

With three gold and two silver medals, Cuba has dominated Olympic baseball.

The U.S. government finally issued visas for the players and coaches of the Cuban national baseball team to compete in the Baseball Americas Olympic qualifying tournament starting Monday in Florida.

Players and executives with the Cuban team had expressed concern about delays in the visas for the tourney to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, which had led them to apply for them in Mexico, Panama and Guyana. U.S. sanctions had hindered applying for the visas in Havana, but arrangements were made at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba’s capital.

“This afternoon we were notified about the issuance of visas,” said a statement released Tuesday by the Cuban Baseball Federation. “The news has been received with pleasure by the members of our team, given that the decision, as we have repeated in recent days, is essential for realizing our fight for our dream in Tokyo.”

According to Cuba’s baseball federation, the athletes would travel in “the next few hours” to Florida. The tournament runs from May 31 to June 5 in West Palm Beach and Port St. Lucie, but exhibition matches are scheduled before that.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, on his Twitter account, thanked “all the institutions and individuals who with goodwill and active management helped overcome the multiple obstacles.”

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