Cuban baseball set a new record in recent weeks when half of its national Under-23 team, or 12 members, defected to Mexico during a World Cup tournament. According to the Miami daily El Nuevo Herald, the previous record was set in 1996 when five Cuban players, also competing in Mexico, chose not to return home.
In other island news, the Free Cuban Medical Guild reports that 76 Cuban healthcare workers – mostly doctors – who received one of Cuba’s three-dose Covid-19 vaccines have died from the sickness. Judging from these data alone, the much-vaunted Cuban biomedical industry seems to be, shall we say, a bit overestimated.
Welcome to the disintegration of “the revolution”. From baseball to national health care, Cuba is in tatters. And despite unprecedented crackdowns, growing numbers of Cubans are finding ways to say so.
The baseball players were part of what the regime called its team of “patriots” because they were supposed to embody the youth’s zeal for the Communist state. Instead, when they saw freedom, they ran away, but not all at the same time. The first three have disappeared, then three others. Subsequent reports have come to us of one here and two there which did not show up on time.
The 12th, according to El Nuevo Herald, disappeared during a team shopping spree in
He could hardly have chosen a more poetic escape from a life sentence of deep deprivation, disappearing like he did in a big box store that screams capitalism. Long live freedom.
The military dictatorship condemned the players for “despicable abandonment”. This is particularly outraged because during the Obama administration he had an agreement with Major League Baseball to send players to the United States. dollars to the fat cat diet in Havana. President Trump rejected this arrangement because, while treating Cuban talent as chattel would be a source of income for the league and the dictatorship, human trafficking is against US law.
Defection is risky. In 2007, when two Cuban boxers defected from the Pan American Games in Brazil, then President Lula da Silva had the federal police arrested; they were sent back to Cuba. Like Lula, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is an apologist from Havana. He recently celebrated Cuban dictator Miguel Díaz-Canel during Mexico’s Independence Day celebrations. A few days later, the Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs received the Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro. Some players already have agents, but as long as one is within reach of Havana’s totalitarians or their allies, the perilous escape is not over.
In a column last week, El Nuevo Herald sports journalist Jorge Ebro shed light on the motivations of players who have defected by considering those who have not: “Those who have decided to come back know that they return, as we said in a private message, to blackouts and the same slow death day by day, to that daily nothingness where suddenly you realize that you have aged and that your talent to play baseball, a lot or a little, is useless.
The disastrous management of Covid-19 by the dictatorship may also be the cause of the exodus of players.
The regime claims to have vaccinated the population since mid-May and claims to have reached more than 80% of Cubans with at least the first dose of one of its three-dose vaccines: Abdala, Soberana 02 or Soberana Plus. Cubans are not told what vaccine they are receiving. But no independent agency anywhere in the world has evaluated and certified any of the three. The Miami-based Cuba Human Rights Foundation told me last week that it had a documented case of an individual who received all three doses of one of the Cuban vaccines but who, when tested in Miami, had no antibodies.
The high number of deaths among vaccinated healthcare workers, as reported by the medical guild, and media reports last month of the upsurge in infections and deaths – including in the military hierarchy – despite the vaccination campaign suggest that something is wrong. Yet it is impossible to know what because of the regime’s deliberate lack of transparency in health care. Those who ask questions are often punished, like Julio Merladet, a vocational school teacher, who was fired last week, and Dr Manuel Guerra, who wasdetained during the weekend.
The Cuban pharmaceutical sector is particularly sensitive as the regime hopes to use its laboratory research to raise hard currency and promote its image as a benevolent police state. He has already exported Abdala to Venezuela, and Cuban vaccines are heading to Vietnam. Mr. López Obrador said in July that Mexico was interested in purchasing snapshots of Havana. Iran is also on Cuba’s shortlist of potential clients.
Yet peer-reviewed clinical trials are non-existent, which turns these populations into guinea pigs and means the World Health Organization is not doing its job again.
Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.
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Published in the print edition of October 11, 2021.