June 9, 2000

Cuba News

Miami Herald

Published Friday, June 9, 2000, in the Miami Herald

Baseball star back in Cuba

Havana leaders disparage player

Andres Viglucci.

Embarrassed by the attempted defection of baseball star Andy Morales, the Cuban government Thursday disparaged his talent and suggested his career was in decline, while an agent hired by the athlete's relatives in Miami said the ballplayer may explore legal ways of leaving the island.

Morales, meanwhile, arrived home in a small town outside Havana, apparently unscathed but with his personal and professional future very much in doubt. Morales was forcibly repatriated Wednesday by the U.S. Coast Guard after being stopped at sea with 30 other Cubans on board an alleged smuggler's speedboat.

Cuban officials insisted that Morales -- the highest-profile athlete turned back to Cuba by U.S. authorities -- would suffer no reprisals, even as a government TV commentator minimized his contributions to Cuban baseball.

Because Morales has no prior record, Cuban news anchor Reinaldo Taladrid said, ``as is always done in these cases, without any exception, he will return to his home. And I think that will be the end of that.''

But Gus Dominguez, a Los Angeles-based sports agent who has helped other Cuban athletes defect, ridiculed suggestions by Taladrid that Morales, 25, was washed up. Dominguez said the comments suggest that Morales will likely not play in Cuba again.

``This is a guy who is healthy and at the top of his career,'' said Dominguez, noting that Morales' batting average was a superb .370 the past two seasons -- statistics that, combined with his stellar slugging in an exhibition game against the Baltimore Orioles last year, would make him a prime Major League prospect. ``Of course, now they don't want to give any validity to this kid.''

Morales had already been told he would not accompany the national team to the Olympic Games in Australia later this year, Dominguez said, because Cuban authorities feared he was planning to defect.

``I believe he is done as far as baseball in Cuba is concerned. He is definitely off the national team, but he was already off the national team,'' Dominguez said.

Morales spoke briefly to Dominguez about defecting during last year's exhibition game in Baltimore. But the agent said he was surprised to learn of Morales' attempt to enter the country illegally last week.

Dominguez said Morales' relatives in Miami have hired lawyers to find legal means of bringing the player to the United States. Under the Cuban accords, the U.S. government grants a minimum of 20,000 visas annually so island residents can emigrate legally.

The government's handling of the case has outraged exiles and puzzled immigrant advocates, who say it appears to be the first time that U.S. authorities have repatriated a prominent Cuban athlete.

Other Cuban baseball players, most prominently half-brothers Orlando ``El Duque'' Hernandez and Livan Hernandez, have become Major League stars after leaving the island illegally. El Duque was banished from Cuban baseball after authorities began to suspect he wanted to follow his brother, who left first, to the United States.

Some advocates speculate that the Clinton administration doesn't want to upset its delicate relations with the Cuban government, and may also now feel less concern over criticism from Cuban Americans given the public backlash against the exiles in the wake of the Elián González saga.

``It is definitely unusual in a high-profile case like this,'' said Cheryl Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center in Miami. ``You have to wonder what's going on. They have made exceptions to their policy before, and if they wanted to bring him here, they could have.''

Morales was repatriated on Wednesday after failing to persuade U.S. asylum officers that he would face political persecution if returned to Cuba. Under the accords that ended the 1995 Cuban rafter crisis, the Clinton administration has repatriated hundreds of Cubans stopped at sea while trying to come to the United States. Those who reach U.S. soil are allowed to stay and, under the Cuban Adjustment Act, can apply for permanent legal residency after a year.

On Thursday, Taladrid said the Americans handled Morales' case appropriately.

``They neither singled out Morales, nor did they grant him any special privileges other than those already given,'' Taladrid said.

But the Cuban government used Morales' repatriation to blast the U.S. ``wet-foot/dry-foot'' policy, saying it encourages illegal smuggling of Cubans to the United States.

Under the treaties, U.S. diplomats in Cuba monitor the treatment of repatriated Cubans by the government, which has promised not to persecute them. U.S. officials say the Cubans, with some exceptions, have lived up to the agreement.

Dominguez said he hoped Cuban officials will not retaliate against Morales, who is married and has two children, or against his family:

``There is a treaty, and we hope Cuba steps up and follows what it's supposed to do.''

Ballplayer Failed Asylum Quiz.

In Cuba, What Constitutes Persecution. Andy Morales's fame makes him vulnerable to reprisal.

Editorial. Published Friday, June 9, 2000, in the Miami Herald

The Immigration and Naturalization Service's decision to repatriate Cuban baseball-star Andy Morales, after he and 30 others were stopped in the Florida Straits aboard a smuggler's boat, underscores the muddle that U.S. policy is toward those who seek escape from Cuba.

We have no sympathy for the smugglers, who traffic in desperate human beings. They deserve the penalty that awaits them.

But the plight of those aboard the boat -- and particularly that of Mr. Morales -- deserves careful consideration. In acting as it did, the INS appeared to follow the letter of the law, as written in the 1994 agreement between President Clinton and Fidel Castro that ended that year's tragic rafter crisis, but failed in spirit.

After the overloaded speedboat was stopped by the Coast Guard, an INS officer interviewed each of the 31 Cubans to determine if any met the international test for political asylum: The ability to demonstrate that they fled because of a ``well-founded fear of persecution'' for their political or other views. The INS officer determined that none met that test and thus had to be repatriated. Mr. Morales reportedly gave as a reason for leaving Cuba his desire to play Major League Baseball.

That answer, while truthful, flunked him. Yet the odds are high that Mr. Morales will, in fact, suffer for acting on that dream. He is not just any freedom-seeking Cuban; he was the Cuban all-star team's third baseman, a household name whose home run last April helped humiliate the Baltimore Orioles.

That fame makes him more vulnerable to reprisal than most. The 1994 accord requires that Cuba not punish anyone who is repatriated. But we know from history that even if Mr. Morales isn't jailed, he'll probably never play ball again, he'll lose all job prospects, he'll be branded a traitor. He and his family will suffer reprisals.

Is this not persecution?

The U.S. government must bear the blame if this occurs. At a minimum, it must insist that Cuba stick to its bargain and leave him alone. And it should grant access by the media and immigration lawyers to migrants intercepted at sea to guarantee that the asylum interview is fair.

No freedom seeker should face a life of repression for giving the ``wrong'' answer to an INS official.

Senate panel subpoenas Elian raid documents, plans to subpoena State

Posted at 5:43 p.m. EDT Thursday, June 8, 2000

WASHINGTON -- (AP) -- A Senate committee subpoenaed Attorney General Janet Reno on Thursday seeking all documents concerning the federal raid in Miami to seize 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez, and announced plans to subpoena the State Department as well.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said the Justice Department has yet to turn over all of its e-mails and documents regarding its decision in April to storm the home of the Cuban boy's Miami relatives to recover the boy for his father, Juan Miguel.

``We want everything so if hearings aren't justified, we won't hold them,'' said Hatch, R-Utah. ``If they are, we will.''

Hatch also called for a State Department subpoena after a conservative group claimed the government collaborated with Cuba's government during the fight over Elian.

``I believe this modification is warranted so as to inform the Congress and the public of any involvement by the State Department and the Cuban government in the raid,'' Hatch said. ``If there was no such involvement, let's establish that. We will all be better served by getting the facts out.''

The Republican-dominated committee approved the Justice Department subpoena by voice vote. The State Department subpoena will be considered next week, Hatch said.

Judicial Watch, a conservative group, said Wednesday that documents it obtained through a Freedom of Information lawsuit show that administration officials, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service, have consulting with Cuba on Elian matters.

``These smoking gun documents help prove what we've suspected, that the Clinton-Gore Administration was doing the bidding of Fidel Castro when they raided the Gonzalez home using 151 armed federal agents,'' Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said.

Government officials have denied dealing with Castro's government.

Hatch's push for a Justice Department subpoena met with a mixed reaction from Judiciary Democrats.

Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., agreed with the move, saying getting all of the information possible would help quell conspiracy theories about what happened with Elian. ``This will deflate, not inflate, the issue,'' he said.

Other Democrats say the subpoena is not necessary. ``I think there's a march to a witch hunt in everything this administration does,'' said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee's ranking Democrat, said the subpoena would be just a ploy to explain why there have not been any hearings on the matter.

``Senator Hatch is delighted to send out subpoenas. He's delighted to send letters. He's delighted to send staff members,'' he said. ``The only thing he doesn't want to do is hold full-scale Elian hearings ... because the American people know what we know, that the child belongs with his parents.''

Sending in armed federal officers to retrieve a child, ``that's not America,'' Hatch said.

``There are many people in our society who are very concerned with the way that house was assaulted: in the middle of the night in full combat gear, automatic or semiautomatic weapons drawn, the home trashed without any real mention in the court document that they were concerned about violence,'' he said.

Copyright 2000 Miami Herald



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