Just hours after the Cuban baseball team’s arrival to South Florida for an Olympic qualifier, one of their players vanished.
César Prieto, a 22-year-old infielder from Cienfuegos and one of Cuba’s top baseball stars, defected on Wednesday, shortly after the team flew into Miami International Airport.
“His decision, contrary to his committment with the Cuban people and his team, has generated repudiation among his team members and the other members of the delegation,” the Cuban Baseball Federation said in a statement.
A defection by a Cuban athlete is nothing new, but the Cuban government has been very critical of them, calling them human trafficking.
“More likely than not, especially if he wants to play baseball he’s going to probably apply for asylum because it’s a quicker way to get a work permit and quicker way to be here,” said Willy Allen, an immigration attorney who has represented Cuban athletes and ballerinas.
The Cuban national team is aiming to win a fourth gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
After arriving at MIA to prepare for the qualifying event, Raico Santos, one of the stars of Cuba’s national baseball team, said that he was very happy and “grateful to God” for being able to travel to the United States.
Their trip to prepare for the Olympic qualifier next week in West Palm Beach almost didn’t happen. The U.S. government granted them U.S. Visas at the last minute.
The preferential treatment of the players upset some Cuban American families in South Florida.
Nuibis Robaina, who lives in Miami-Dade County, said she and her family are “very aggravated.” The Cuban American family has been waiting five years to welcome a few of their Cuban relatives to Miami-Dade. She said their U.S. Visas were approved on Aug. 31, 2017.
“They were given a pass saying Welcome to the United States of America,” Robaina said.
The U.S. embassy in Cuba is facing a mass backlog since it suspended regular operations following a series of illnesses reported by several State Department employees starting in 2016.
The so-called “Havana Syndrome” remains under federal investigation.
Former President Donald Trump’s administration slashed staff at the U.S. embassy while reversing former President Barack Obama’s policy of engagement.
Robaina’s relatives were unable to pick up their U.S. Visa to be able to fly to Miami International Airport. Robaina said she and her relatives were heartbroken. They have written letters to the White House and several lawmakers, but nothing has been done.
“We always get the same answer,” Robaina said.
The Biden administration has yet to make changes in Havana.