CubaBrief: Why Cuban baseball players defect. What happens to Cubans who stay behind and try to live their lives with dignity. Holding the Castro regime and their enablers accountable

In the year 2000 PBS broadcast the documentary “Stealing Home: The case of contemporary baseball” . It was produced and directed by by Robert Anderson Clift and Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky and attempted to give the Cuban government the benefit of the doubt in the debate over defectors. The Economist in the June 8, 2018 article “Why athletes vanish:  Sportsmen frequently use international competitions as opportunities to leave their home countries for good” reported that ” athletes have long used competitions as an opportunity to escape war, poverty or repressive dictatorships.” In the same article they pointed out that “countries including Cuba and North Korea have been known to keep their athletes under surveillance to avoid losing entire teams.” When athletes are spied on by their governments to prevent them escaping then one should understand that they are living under a dictatorship, and they are not free. Cuba in 2021 is not a free country and that is why “César Prieto, a 22-year-old infielder, [defected from] the Cuban National Baseball Team while it was in Florida, participating in an Olympic qualifying tournament”, according to USA Today.

César Prieto walking off the field.

César Prieto walking off the field.

The question too often left unasked is “what happens to those Cubans who stay behind and try to live as free persons?”

The human rights NGO Race and Equality reports that “Yandier Garcia Labrada was detained on October 6, 2020, after protesting against problems with the distribution of food in Manatí, Las Tunas. After being detained, he was held incommunicado for approximately a month, during which time he suffered beatings at the hands of security forces which left him with an immobilized arm. He has still not received any medical attention, despite this injury and his severe asthma.” Yandier Garcia Labrada, who is a member of the Christian Liberation Movement, a nonviolent dissident movement, continues to be jailed  in  “El Típico” prison for nearly eight months without any charges presented against him.

Yandier Garcia Labrada

Yandier Garcia Labrada

Professor Lillian Guerra, a historian at the University of Florida who specializes in Cuban and Caribbean history,  in an OpEd published in The New York Times titled “The Return of Cuba’s Security State” [ The Times chooses the title to run with, and for the record the Security State never left after the Castro brothers imposed it at gunpoint in 1959]  wrote:

“A  Castro is no longer running Cuba, yet we are witnessing a return to Soviet-style tactics to control ideas and silence public criticism. Cuban officials are using the regime’s old playbook — arrests and intimidation — to crush oppositional voices. Between the late 1960s and the 1980s, Cubans were subject to legal codes that criminalized attitudes, beliefs and behaviors the government considered a threat to national sovereignty. Embracing certain ideas, musical tastes and even fashion that Cuban officials found politically offensive were punishable offenses.”

The repression did not end in the 1990s or 2000s but has continued to the present day.  On July 13, 1994 a tugboat with over seventy Cubans was sunk by regime officials killing 37 men, women, and children. On February 24, 1996 the Castro regime carried out a conspiracy that led to the shoot down of two civilian airplanes over international airspace killing four U.S. residents.  In Spring of 2003 the Castro regime organized a massive crackdown on the opposition in which 75 nonviolent activists were sentenced to prison sentences ranging up to 28 years in jail. During that same time three young black men were caught after they hijacked a boat that ran out of gas, and although no one was hurt, much less killed they were captured, tried and executed in under 10 days. Worse yet, Cuban artists were required to sign a letter supporting the measure.

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Although agree with much of what Professor Guerra says in her OpEd and the plight of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara’and the San Isidro Movement. I take issue with the idea that lifting sanctions will improve the situation. During the Obama Administration sanctions were loosened, and opposition leaders were killed, violence escalated against the opposition, and arbitrary detentions skyrocketed and over 24 U.S. diplomats suffered brain injuries in Havana beginning in 2016. The case of Communist China and the U.S. policy of engagement that did not normalize China, but led to the United States, and U.S. citizens engaging in abnormal behaviors to rationalize Chinese repression.

Let us not repeat the same mistake again in Cuba, but rather hold the Castro regime accountable for its human rights violations, and that includes property rights. This includes going after those who profit from stolen properties with the Cuban dictatorship. Title III of the Helms Burton law allows ” Americans to pursue legal action against companies doing business in Cuba on property confiscated by the regime of Fidel Castro.” The Wall Street Journal reported on March 26, 2021 that “LafargeHolcim Ltd. , a Swiss cement giant, has agreed in principle to settle a lawsuit brought by a group of 25 U.S. nationals who claimed the company used their Cuban property to conduct business, according to court documents.” Economic sanctions and the defense of the rule of law are also nonviolent tools that bring accountability to the regime.  We should follow the wise counsel of the ancient Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero  who understood that “the greatest incitement to guilt is the hope of sinning with impunity.” It is not coincidence that the greatest crimes of the Castro regime occurred when they were not being held accountable by international actors.

One final minor, but important point, a Castro is not formally running Cuba, but the Castro clan led by Raul Castro continues to run Cuba today.

USA Today, May 28, 2021

Cuban baseball player César Prieto defects from national team while in Florida

Lorenzo ReyesUSA TODAY

A Cuban baseball player defected from the country’s national team Wednesday, according to the Cuban Baseball Federation.

César Prieto, a 22-year-old infielder, left the Cuban National Baseball Team while it was in Florida, participating in an Olympic qualifying tournament.

In a statement posted in Spanish to its website, the Federación Cubana de Béisbol confirmed Prieto’s decision.

“His decision, which is contrary to the commitment he made with both his country and team, has generated repudiation among his colleagues and other members of the delegation, who are willing to overcome foreign interests to be faithful to our homeland and the mission with which we traveled to the tournament,” the statement reads.

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“We feel it is worth pointing out that this type of encouraged behavior marks the many aggressions against our sport, which has been a victim of the interests of merchants and traffickers who have been given preference from the United States government to disable the agreement aimed at normalizing the addition of our players to MLB clubs.”

It is common for Cuban baseball players looking to make it to the majors to defect, due to the ongoing tense relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba.

Prieto led all Serie Nacional de Béisbol (Cuban National Series) players with a .403 batting average in the most recent season for Cienfuegos. He also hit seven home runs and 51 RBI in 74 games.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2021/05/28/cuban-baseball-player-cesar-prieto-defects-while-olympic-qualifier/7485333002/

The New York Times, May 27, 2021

Opinion

Guest Essay

The Return of Cuba’s Security State

May 27, 2021

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara in Havana.Credit...Orlando García García/Wondereur

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara in Havana.Credit…Orlando García García/Wondereur

By Lillian Guerra

Professor Guerra is a historian who specializes in Cuban and Caribbean history.

The Cuban performance artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara’s home in San Isidro, one of Old Havana’s poor and majority-Black barrios, lies steps away from Cuba’s National Archive and the childhood home of José Martí, Cuba’s exalted 19th-century hero and fighter for racial justice. The promises of history and the grinding realities of life after 62 years of Communist rule collide in San Isidro.

Mr. Otero Alcántara is a founder of the San Isidro Movement, a group of writers, artists and intellectuals who are openly challenging the state’s claims that the Castro-led revolution eliminated racism and that Cuba’s particular brand of socialism has served the poor more than the state. Like others before him, Mr. Otero Alcántara has paid dearly for his activism. Since 2017, Cuban state security has arrested the artist dozens of times, kept him under constant surveillance, seized his art and subjected him to repeated interrogations and a defamation campaign led by state media.

Access to social media, which has become widespread only in the past two years, has provided an outlet for self-expression for artists like Mr. Otero Alcántara on an island where the narrative has long been carefully crafted by the state. In the protest anthem “Patria y Vida,” or “Fatherland and Life,” a rebuke of the revolution’s slogan, “Fatherland or Death,” written by various musicians and released on YouTube in February, Alexander Delgado of the Grammy-award-winning group Gente de Zona sings: “No more lies! My people are asking for freedom! No more indoctrination!” Mr. Otero Alcántara makes a cameo in one scene, brandishing a Cuban flag. The video received nearly five million views in a few weeks. It angered Cuban officials, who attacked the artists as “traitors” spouting imperial “vomit.” On April 26, the police arrested one of the singers, Maykel Castillo, known as El Osorbo; his whereabouts remain unknown.

A Castro is no longer running Cuba, yet we are witnessing a return to Soviet-style tactics to control ideas and silence public criticism. Cuban officials are using the regime’s old playbook — arrests and intimidation — to crush oppositional voices.

Between the late 1960s and the 1980s, Cubans were subject to legal codes that criminalized attitudes, beliefs and behaviors the government considered a threat to national sovereignty. Embracing certain ideas, musical tastes and even fashion that Cuban officials found politically offensive were punishable offenses. Tens of thousands of citizens endured humiliating public trials on the charge of promoting counterrevolution; they endured years of re-education at state labor camps for encouraging doubt about the viability of state policies or the justice of Communist Party mandates.

Overt expressions of Black consciousness and demands for public examination of racism in revolutionary Cuba were met with discrimination and repression. Practitioners of Santería, a religion that originated in colonial Cuba by slaves, faced prison sentences of up to two years. Black Communist Party members like the filmmaker Nicolás Guillén Landrián and the writer Walterio Carbonell, whose work was critical of the government, faced censorship, hard labor, psychiatric torture and worse.

On April 25, Mr. Otero Alcántara started a hunger strike after the police raided his home and confiscated or destroyed some of his artwork. After eight days, state security agents forcibly took him to a Havana hospital, and kept him in custody. On May 4, a video of the artist surfaced on his government-assigned doctor’s personal Facebook account. A visibly thin Mr. Otero Alcántara straightened the doctor’s collar, shared a laugh and then thanked his captors for their excellent treatment.

How a man who only days earlier taunted the government could suddenly change his mind is a case study in how Cuba’s Communist state has kept its grip on power for decades. We don’t know what his treatment has been. But the implication now is that he wasn’t a credible activist for change. He was just crazy all along. Has Mr. Otero Alcántara’s apparent about-face been brought on by the same psychiatric torture others have been subjected to?

Mr. Otero Alcántara is a founder of the San Isidro Movement, a group of writers, artists and intellectuals who are openly challenging the state’s claims that the Castro-led revolution eliminated racism.Credit...Orlando García García/Wondereur

Mr. Otero Alcántara is a founder of the San Isidro Movement, a group of writers, artists and intellectuals who are openly challenging the state’s claims that the Castro-led revolution eliminated racism.Credit…Orlando García García/Wondereur

Indeed, Mr. Otero Alcántara’s state-sponsored performance was not new. The authorities have done this before, to the Cuban poet Heberto Padilla. Mr. Padilla used his art to issue scathing critiques of the Communist state. He too joked and expressed gratitude toward his captors in a 1971 filmed confession, scripted and extracted under pressure by the Cuban government.

Unlike Mr. Padilla, who was born and raised before the revolution, Mr. Otero Alcántara and other Cuban musicians and artists and the millions who support their right to protest are products of it. Many are Black and poor, the very people who for 62 years the regime claimed represented the greatest pillar of support. Yet the state’s championing of their cause was based not only on assertions that anti-Black racism and deep poverty ceased to exist in Communist Cuba, but also on the silencing of anyone who dared to claim that the opposite was true. Saying racism and poverty continued — despite Communism or perhaps because of it — remains as much a taboo as it was in the 1960s and ’70s.

Today words, ideas and a commitment to peaceful protest are no less powerful threats to the Cuban state. The legal apparatus of the Communist Party’s security state rests on a new 2019 Constitution. It not only mandates the singular right of the Communist Party to rule but also obligates all citizens to support the party’s vision of socialism. Cubans are free only to agree with the government. But the revival of Soviet-style political controls is a fruitless endeavor. Social media has given Cubans a new way of creating content and carrying out artistic protest, and there is simply no turning back to the way things were.

In recent video posts, Mr. Otero Alcántara appears debilitated and incoherent. He asked for his mother, even though she died in January. The Cuban government must release him as well as the 10 other artists, independent journalists and protesters jailed for supporting him. Communist leaders have long used the U.S. embargo on Cuba to claim that citizens who are critical of the government are agents of U.S. imperialism. Ending it will flood the island with the very weapons the government fears: ideas, debate and opportunities.

Those who call for peaceful protest and public reckoning are not the enemies of Cuban sovereignty, prosperity and racial equality. They are Cuba’s greatest hope.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/27/opinion/cuba-artist-luis-manuel-otero-alcantara.html


Race and Equality,  May 26, 2021

Race and Equality expresses concern for imprisoned Cuban activist Yandier García Labrada and calls on Cuba to comply with the decisions of the IACHR

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Washington, D.C.; May 26, 2021.- The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) expresses our serious concern at the situation of Yandier Garcia Labrada, a Cuban activist and member of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) who has been held in “El Típico” prison for nearly eight months without any charges being presented against him.

Yandier Garcia Labrada was detained on October 6, 2020, after protesting against problems with the distribution of food in Manatí, Las Tunas. After being detained, he was held incommunicado for approximately a month, during which time he suffered beatings at the hands of security forces which left him with an immobilized arm. He has still not received any medical attention, despite this injury and his severe asthma.

Recognizing the serious risks that Yandier faces in custody, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted him precautionary measures on January 7, 2021. These measures require the State of Cuba to protect his life and personal integrity, particularly by guaranteeing that he is held in conditions compliant with international standards on the rights of people deprived of liberty. The Commission also called on the Cuban government to adopt these measures in consultation with Yandier and his family and to report on the actions taken to comply with the decision.

The government, however, has not adopted any measures to implement the ruling. Yandier’s situation has only worsened, including through the denial of family visits supposedly due to pandemic-related restrictions. His phone calls are also limited: in the last five months, he has only been permitted one phone call with his family in March 2021. Since then, his family has lost all contact with him and are greatly concerned for his well-being, knowing the poor conditions of Cuban prisons and the risks he faces due to his asthma. Yandier also suffers constant abuse and intimidation at the hands of security forces. The criminal case against him remains open, despite the fact that no charges have been presented and he has not been granted a trial.

Race and Equality calls upon the State of Cuba to adopt all necessary measures to comply with IACHR Resolution 5/2021 and preserve Yandier’s fundamental rights to life, liberty, and personal integrity. We also demand that the State respect the right of all Cubans deprived of liberty, including Yandier, to remain in communication with their loved ones and legal representatives.

https://raceandequality.org/cuba/yandier-garcia-labrada-arbitrary-detention-cuba/


The Wall Street Journal, May 26, 2021

LafargeHolcim Nears Settlement Over Property in Cuba

Using a provision of the Helms-Burton Act, a U.S. plaintiff group claimed the Swiss cement company has been profiting from a property the group has rights to

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By Mengqi Sun
May 26, 2021 6:11 pm ET

LafargeHolcim Ltd. , a Swiss cement giant, has agreed in principle to settle a lawsuit brought by a group of 25 U.S. nationals who claimed the company used their Cuban property to conduct business, according to court documents.

The lawsuit, filed in September in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, is one of dozens of cases brought under a long-dormant provision of a law that allows Americans to pursue legal action against companies doing business in Cuba on property confiscated by the regime of Fidel Castro.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit—a group that includes the estates of four persons—claim that the property they owned through a company was confiscated without compensation by the Cuban government in 1960.

The certified claims originally belonged to five Americans, who were all members of the same family and sole owners of Compañía Azucarera Soledad SA, a closely held family-owned company in Cienfuegos, Cuba, whose property has been used by LafargeHolcim.

The original claimants are Helen A. Claflin, William H. Claflin III, Mary C. Rentschler, Anne C. Allen and John W. Weeks, according to the lawsuit. Ms. Allen and Mr. Weeks are deceased. Some of the plaintiffs share the same last names of the original claimants, though the lawsuit doesn’t make clear their relationship.

The Trump administration ended the suspension of Title III of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act in May 2019. The provision allows certain U.S. nationals with claims on properties confiscated by the Cuban government to seek compensation from companies operating on those properties.

In a court document filed last week, lawyers for the plaintiffs and for LafargeHolcim said they reached an agreement in principle to settle the lawsuit. Lawyers for the parties are working on a definitive settlement with a mediator.

David Baron, an attorney at law firm Berliner Corcoran & Rowe LLP who is representing the plaintiffs, declined to comment. Grace Mead, an attorney at Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson PA who represents LafargeHolcim, also declined to comment.

The mediator, Layn Phillips, as well declined to comment, citing confidentiality constraints. Neither would a spokesman for LafargeHolcim comment.

The plaintiffs brought the lawsuit against LafargeHolcim, two of its subsidiaries, and three other entities, seeking up to $810 million in monetary damages, according to the complaint. The plaintiffs said they own 100% of claims to the property, and that those claims were certified by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, a quasi-judicial agency within the U.S. Justice Department, which valued the property at more than $11 million in 1969, according to the complaint.

The Soledad company had sugar operations, dairy farming and raised cattle, according to the lawsuit. The property included natural resources and railroads and is located near two rivers, according to the complaint. After it was confiscated by the Cuban government, it was converted into a cement plant, the complaint said.

The plaintiffs alleged that LafargeHolcim has partially owned and operated the property in partnership with the Cuban government and has profited from the cement plant since 2000.

The complaint also notes that LafargeHolcim, which is based in Switzerland, has extensive operations in the U.S.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/lafargeholcim-nears-settlement-over-property-in-cuba-11622067104