May 30, 2000

The Cuba Connection

Boston Globe

A complete list of defectors

By the Globe Staff, 5/30/2000

Athletes who have left Cuba to participate in the US or other countries:

Roberto Aldazabal, Gymnastics: Defected at the 1993 Central American and Caribbean Games. Helped by friend who had defected three years before. Won gold medal on uneven parallel bars.

Ivan Alvarez, Baseball: Pitcher signed for $35,000 with San Francisco in 1993; Retired from Burlington Bees in 1995.

Yamilet Amaro, Field hockey: Defected at 1993 Central Amercian and Caribbean Games at age 22. Uncle Tony Suarez defected in 1988 from Cuba to Miami. Walked off field one Saturday morning with a teammate. Current whereabouts unknown.

Jesus Amettler, Baseball: Second baseman defected in 1996 through Mexico. Batting .250 at Double A Arkansas (Cardinals).

Boris Anansibea, Judo: Defected from the 1993 Central American Caribbean Games just before the Cuban delegation was scheduled to fly home. Current whereabouts unknown.

Rene Arocha, Baseball: Signed for $15,000 with St. Louis in 1991; injured elbow in 1996. Pitched in Mexican League in 1999 (1-7, 4.15 ERA).

Rolando Arrojo, Baseball: Pitcher defected in 1996. Signed for $7 million by Tampa Bay and made 1998 All-Star game; traded to Rockies after 1999 season; 2-4 with 7.19 ERA this season.

Danys Baez, Baseball: Pitcher defected at Pan Am Games in 1999. Just promoted to Double A Akron (Indians). Was 2-2, 4.91 ERA in Single A.

Jorge Enrico Blanco, Boxing: Walked away from Cuban team at 1967 Pan Am Games. Now lives in Texas under the name Jesse Ravelo and coaches professional and amateur fighters.

Norge Blay, Water Polo: Defected at 1993 Central American and Caribbean Games. He was a 26-year-old forward on gold medal team before defecting. Left competition site in Ponce with teammate Antonio. Resides in Puerto Rico, but often visits other former members of the Cuban water polo team in Miami.

Lazaro Borrell, Basketball: Defected at an Olympic qualifying tournament in July '99 in Puerto Rico. The 26-year-old plays center. He signed a two-year contract with the Seattle SuperSonics in September.

Felix Isasi Bustamante, Baseball: Outfielder defected in Spain; unsigned.

Juan Carlos Bruzon, Baseball: Outfielder gained political asylum in 1999; signed with Winnipeg of Northern League in March.

Alexis Cabreja, Baseball: Outfielder defected in 1992; signed with Texas Rangers but never made it past Single A.

Ramon Campoallegre, Water polo: Defected in 1998 from a training camp in Mexico. Currently serves as a lifeguard in the Miami area.

Joel Casamayor, Boxing: Defected in late June 1996 at a pre-Olympic training camp. He recently won the WBA superfeatherweight title.

Elieser Castillo, Boxing: Came to US in 1994 in an inner tube. Heavyweight trains in Atlantic City.

Elisio Castillo, Boxing: Came to US in an inner tube. Cruiserweight trains in Miami.

Angel Coballero, Basketball: The 28-year-old guard defected at Olympic qualifying tournament in July '99 in Puerto Rico. He currently lives in Puerto Rico.

Roberto Colina, Baseball: First baseman defected in 1996; released by Blue Jays last month; defected in 1996.

Jose Tejada Cortina, Gymnastics: Defected at the 1993 Central American and Caribbean Games. Claimed he earned the equivalent of $1.75 a month in Cuba. Helped in Puerto Rico by exile group known as the Comite Cubano Por Derechos Humanos

Conrado Cabrera, Cycling: Defected after competing in the 1993 Central American and Caribbean Games. Current whereabouts unknown.

Juan Carlos Diaz, Baseball: First baseman is batting .275 with 4 HRs at Single A Sarasota (Red Sox).

Noel de la Cruz, Cycling: Defected after competing in the 1993 Central American and Caribbean Games. Current whereabouts unknown.

Ana Santiago Diaz, Sharpshooter: Defected at 1993 Central American and Caribbean Games. Waited a long time to defect and didn't tell his mother. Current whereabouts unknown.

Jorge Diaz, Baseball: Second baseman in extended spring training with Rangers.

Ivan Dominquez, Cycling: Defected at the 1998 Goodwill Games. He now trains with a cycling team based in Orlando.

Alfonso Donate, Archery: Coach defected at 1993 Central American and Caribbean Games. Current whereabouts unknown.

Alfonso Donate, Archery: Defected with father at 1993 Central American and Carribean Games. Father trained son so he could become a member of the national team and both could defect. Left behind mother and sister. Current whereabouts: unknown.

Manuel Elizondo, Boxing: The trainer defected in July 1994. He continues to train boxers in the Miami area.

Osmani Estrada, Baseball: Infielder drafted by Rangers in 1993; reached AAA before being released. Playing in Taiwan.

Elsimo Felipe, Boxing: Came to US in an inner tube in 1995. Welterweight that no longer fights. Lives in Tampa, Fla.

Lazaro Fernandez, Water polo: Defected at 1994 Alamo Cup. Now lives in Puerto Rico.

Osmany Fernandez, Baseball: Pitcher defected at junior tournament in Illinois in 1996; living in Dominican Republic.

Osvaldo Fernandez, Baseball: Defected in Tennessee. Pitcher signed for $3.2 million with San Francisco in 1997 but developed elbow problems. Now has 5.71 ERA for Reds.

Osvaldo Fernandez, Baseball: Pitcher defected in Barbados; out of the game.

Ramon Garbey, Boxing: Defected in late June 1996 at a pre-Olympic traning camp. Currently trains in Denver, Colorado. Scheduled to fight undefeated heavyweight Fres Oquendo on June 25.

Osmani Garcia, Baseball: Third baseman in extended spring training with Rangers.

Osvaldo Garcia Sr., Water polo: Defected with his son at a tournament in California in 1994. Foormer coach of Cuban national team and one-time Olympian, works as physical education teacher.

Osvaldo Garcia Jr., Water polo: Defected with his father at a tournament in California in 1994. Former national team player, works with Miami Beach Patrol.

Andres Gilbert, basketball: Defected at 1993 Central American and Caribbean Games. Plays in Europe.

Juan Carlos Gomez, Boxing: Defected 1995. World champion cruiserweight champion based in Germany.

Jorge Luis Gonzalez, Boxing: Defected in Helsinki on April 1, 1991, now living in Las Vegas. He was the first major athlete to defect from Cuba.

Alain Guillen, Water polo: Defected in (x). National team player now with Miami Beach patrol.

Arnaldo Guillen, Water polo: Defected in (x). Former national team player now with Miami Beach patrol. Brother of Alain.

Adrian Hernandez, Baseball: Pitcher left Cuba on New Year's Day. Reportedly has signed a $4 million contract for Yankees.

Alain Hernandez, Baseball: Pitcher smuggled out of Cuba in 1998; unsigned.

Alberto Hernandez, Baseball: Catcher played parts of two seasons in Taiwan and had tryout in Seattle system; living in Costa Rica.

Alexis Hernandez, Baseball: Catcher gained political asylum in 1999; signed with Winnipeg of Northern League in March.

Livan Hernandez, Baseball: Defected in Mexico. Pitcher was World Series MVP for Florida in 1997; 2-5, 4.62 ERA with Giants this year.

Michel Hernandez, Baseball: Catcher defected in 1996. Batting .304 at Single A Tampa (Yankees).

Odalys Hernandez, Softball: Pitcher defected at the 1993 Central American and Caribbean Games. Current whereabouts unknown.

Orlando Hernandez, Baseball: Defected in December, 1997. Pitcher is 33-17 for his career with Yankees and two World Series titles.

Rigoberto Betancourt Herrera, Baseball: Coach defected May 1999 in Baltimore when the Cuban national team was playing the the Baltimore Orioles.

Roberto Herrera, Basketball: The 25-year-old guard defected at an Olympic qualifying tournament in July '99 in Puerto Rico. Son of Cuban Basketball Federation president, Ruperto Herrera. Brother Ruperto, Jr. defected in Argentina in May '99. After playing one season at Hartnell College, he joined the Florida Sea Dragons, who released him recently after six games.

Usviel Himely, Kayaer: Defected in 1994. Entered several competitions after his arrival. Current whereabouts unknown.

Diobelys Hurtado, Boxing: Defected in October 1994. Fought Pernell Whitaker as a welterweight in January 1997. Now trains with Joel Casamayor in Van Nuys, Calif.

Manuel Hurtado, Baseball.

Mario Irribarren, Boxing: Defected in Denmark in 1994, where he asked for political asylum. Based in Miami.

Maikel Jova, Baseball: Second baseman defected in 1997; signed for $150,000; playing Dominican rookie league for Blue Jays.

Delia Lago, President of the Cuban Diving Federation: Defected last year at a diving event in Ft. Lauderdale. Mother of water polo player Armando Piedra. Lives with son in Miami area.

Emilio Lara, Weightlifter: Defected at 1993 Central American and Caribbean Games at age 23. Asked Puerto Rican National Guard for asylum. Did not tell his older brother Pablo Lara of his plans. At the time, Pablo was a world-record holding weightlifter and also part of the 900-person Cuban delegation at the Games. Living in Puerto Rico.

Ivan Ledon, Boxing: Defected in 1995. Junior welterweight. Came over with uncle in inner tube. Current whereabouts unknown.

Ramon Ledon, Boxing: Defected in 1995. Junior lightweight. Came over with nephew in inner tube. Current whereabouts unknown.

Mariano Leyva, Boxing: The coach sought political asylum during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He works as a massage therapist in Miami.

Angel Lopez, Baseball: Catcher smuggled out of Cuba in 1998; unsigned.

Juan Carlos Martinez, Water polo: Defected in 1993 after a decade on the Cuban national team. Lives in Miami and works on the Miami Beach Patrol.

Juan Median, Baseball: Pitcher still unsigned.

Joel Monzon Mejia, Baseball: Pitcher defected in Spain; unsigned.

Jose Menendez, Cycling: Defected in Puerto Rico in 1993. Currently, he lives in the Miami area.

Neylan Molina, Baseball: Fourth-leading hitter on Cuban national team; recently defected to South America; awaiting residency.

Daimara Munoz, Swimming: Defected at Puerto Rican training camp in 1988. Left 2-year-old daughter behind in Cuba. Current whereabouts unknown.

Liudmilla Montes de Oca, Swimming: 18-year-old butterfly specialist defected at Puerto Rican training camp in 1988. Current whereabouts unknown.

Ihosvany Negret, Wrestling: Defected to the US in May 1994. Current whereabouts unknown.

Vladimir Nunez, Baseball: Pitcher signed for $1.8 million with Arizona after defecting in Venezuela in 1995; 0-3, 7.77 ERA with Marlins this year.

Lino O'Cana, Weightlifter: Defected at 1993 Central American and Caribbean Games. Told stories about training on daily menu of sugar water, rice, beans and fish. Last known residence in Puerto Rico.

Edilberto Oropesa, Baseball: Defected in Buffalo in 1993. Signed with Giants after defecting; now on minor-league contract after elbow surgery; 1-0 with 2.74 ERA.

Rey Ordonez, Baseball: Shortstop defected in 1993 in Buffalo. Batting .197.; won three Gold Glove awards.

William Ortega, Baseball: Outfielder signed $200,000 bonus in '97; batting .354 with 11 HR and 43 RBI at Double A Arkansas (Cardinals).

Michael Ortiz, Track and Field: Defected at Pan Am Games in Winnipeg in August 1999. Current whereabouts unknown.

Brayan Pena, Baseball: Catcher signed $1.25 million bonus with Braves last week at age 18.

Angel Perez, Kayaker: Defected in 1993 by crossing the Rio Grande. Currently training for 2000 US Olympics.

Jose Perez, Track and Field: Defected after winning the bronze medal in the 400-meter hurdles at a San Juan meet in 1997. Current whereabouts unknown.

Josue Perez, Baseball: Outfielder signed $850,000 bonus with Philadelphia after being declared free agent; batting .286 at Single A Clearwater (Phillies).

Miguel Perez, Baseball: Pitcher still unsigned but having tryouts in Costa Rica.

Armando Piedra, Water polo: Defected in September 1994 in Spain. Former national team member who now also works with Miami Beach Patrol.

Hector Pino, Basketball: The 24-year-old center defected at an Olympic qualifying tournament in July '99 in Puerto Rico. He played one season for Hartnell College in California and now hopes to play professionally in Spain.

Ariel Prieto, Baseball: Came to US in 1994 on a visa. $1.2 million signing bonus in 1995 with A's but suffered elbow problems; recently sent down from the A's, where he had an 11.25 ERA in four innings.

Rio Ramirez, Diver: Defected at 1993 Central American and Carribean Games. Currently studying business administration at University Miami where he also dives. Taking a semester off to train for US Olympic trials.

Lazaro Reinoso, Wrestling: Defected on way his way to a 1994 tournament in New Jersey. Competed for Division II Carson-Newman College last season and won a national title.

Nataniel Reinoso, Baseball: Outfielder signed for $87,000 in 1999; just sent down from Double A to Single; batting .214 at Myrtle Beach (Braves).

Armando Rodriquez, Basketball: Team masseur defected at an Olympic qualifying tournament in July '99 in Puerto Rico.

Larry Rodriguez, Baseball: Pitcher signed for $1.2 million with Diamondbacks after defecting in 1995; released last year after developing arm troubles.

Euclides Rojas, Baseball: Defected on a raft in 1994; the all-time saves leader in Cuba, he played in minors, now pitching coach in Marlins minor-league system.

Nubis Rosales, Swimming: Defected at Puerto Rican training camp in 1988. Current whereabouts unknown.

Antonio Perez Sanchez, Water Polo: Defected at 1993 Central America and Caribbean Games. Played center. Works in an auto parts warehouse in Miami.

Osmany Santana, Baseball: Signed in 1998; batting .310 at Single A Kinston (Indians).

Francisco Santiesteban, Baseball: Catcher defected in Colombia in 1997; signed minor-league contract with Mariners in 1998 and was released before last season.

Yalian Serrano, Baseball: Catcher defected at age 15 in 1996; released by Devil Rays in 1999.

Juan Carlos Suarez, Boxing: Came to US in an inner tube in 1994. Based in Miami.

Jorge Luis Toca, Baseball: Oufielder signed $1.4 million with bonus in 1998; batting .278 with 4 HR and 27 RBI at Triple A Norfolk (Mets).

Tatiana Valdes, Kayaker: Defected in 1994 by crossing the Rio Grande. She now lives and works in Miami.

Ramon Valdivia, Baseball: Shortstop defected after Olympics in 1996 but never signed a major league contract.

Juan Leopoldo Vazquez, Basketball: Defected at last year's Pan Am Games, where he was aided by the Cuban American National Foundation.

Alexis Vila, Wrestling: Defected at the 1997 Pan American Championships after taking the gold medal at 54.0 kilograms. Now lives in Miami and helps coach a wrestling club for kids.

Julio Cesar Villalon, Baseball: Pitcher had brief stay in Tampa Bay minor-league camp.

Jesus Wilson, Wrestling: Defected on his way to a 1994 tournament in New Jersey. He is attempting to get citizenship before the Olympic trials are completed in late June. This past year, he competed for Division III Upper Iowa University. National champion at 133 pounds. He will return next year as a part-time coach.

This list was compiled with material from personal interviews and news accounts.

This story ran on page F7 of the Boston Globe on 5/30/2000.

Keeping their heads above water

Players resurface, work as lifeguards

By Shira Springer, Globe Staff, 5/30/2000

MIAMI - In the candy-colored lifeguard shacks that line Miami Beach, some of the best water polo players produced by the Cuban sports system enjoy the good life. They are fit, tan, and content watching over well-heeled tourists on vacation. Working for the Miami Beach Patrol gives the players an opportunity to put their athletic skills to use and affords them time to contemplate their future as they scan the waves. They are both 90 miles and an ocean away from Cuba.

Between 1993 and 1998, nine water polo players and their longtime coach defected, decimating the Cuban program. Juan Carlos Martinez was the first player to leave, planning his defection at a tournament in California. Though Cuban teams haven't competed in the US since the summer of '94, the fears of Cuban officials have been realized as defections gradually depleted the program. Five years after Martinez left, Ramon Campoallegre was the latest to defect, leaving a training camp in Mexico in November 1998. He crossed the US border illegally, with $3,000 sent to him by former teammates.

As lifeguards, several of the players remain as close-knit as they were when they competed, trained, and attended school together in Cuba. While they have benefited from defecting to the US, they have experienced their share of setbacks, too.

''It's exciting that we're all here and back together,'' said Alain Guillen, who defected with his brother Arnaldo. ''It's good that we're still close. We play water polo and have a lot of fun. We are happy.

''It's nothing compared to the way it was in Cuba. Most of the time when we practice, we talk about Cuba. We talk about the good times and not so much about the training and problems. All of us went through a lot.''

None of the defectors suffered through more than Martinez. He played on the Cuban national team for a decade, enduring frigid water in winter, bacteria-filled pools, and meager food rations that made many team members anemic.

''When I came to the United States,'' he said, ''it was like waking up from a nightmare and seeing a dream.''

Martinez had never been inside a bank, never experienced big-city life with ''lights everywhere.''

But even when Martinez was a free man in the US, Cuba managed to influence the choices he made. He declined offers to train for the 1996 US Olympic team, fearing he would anger the Cuban government and hurt his son's chances of leaving the island.

''They already considered me a traitor,'' said Martinez. ''If I'm in the Olympics, they would keep my son forever.''

So he worked in hospital food service and then took an overnight shift as a security guard. All the while, he worked to reclaim his son and former wife. Three years after he defected, they joined him in Miami.

With his family situation resolved, Martinez became a lifeguard. His exuberance for his new life often spills over. With more national team service and more time in the US than the other players, he has been the unofficial social secretary for the group, making sure they keep in touch.

''I love this country and I'm happy in this job,'' said Martinez. ''When I defected, I was thinking about my son's future. He's going to grow up here. He's not going to miss this opportunity. I'm not going to miss this opportunity. It's hard. Sometimes it is a lot of stress because this country runs too fast. You've got to work a lot to make money, but it should be like that.''

Many of the former national team members wish they could parlay their water polo skills into lucrative professional contracts, the way Cuban baseball players can.

But soon after they defected, the water polo players realized that the American sports scene does not reward their talents the same way. Pursuing a professional career in their sport probably would mean leaving the US, a prospect that did not interest most of them. They accept, sometimes reluctantly, the fate handed to them long ago by the selection processes of the Cuban sports system.

A different ballgame

As a child in Havana, Armando Piedra was considered a promising baseball player, decent enough to earn entry to a selective sports academy. Following a school day of drills and technical training, Piedra and his neighbor, Rey Ordonez, would head to a local park and continue practicing. Like Orlando ''El Duque'' Hernandez, Ordonez has earned fame and fortune in the US. He is a star shortstop with the New York Mets.

By contrast, Piedra developed an interest in swimming that led to a place on the Cuban water polo team and a less-certain future when he sought political asylum in the US on Christmas Day 1995.

Piedra has called the switch from baseball to water polo ''a big mistake.'' Visiting briefly with El Duque in the VIP room of a South Beach nightclub shortly after the Yankees won the 1998 World Series, Piedra was reminded of the different paths they have taken.

''If I was a baseball player, maybe I would be rich now,'' said Piedra. ''You don't know. I am a good friend of El Duque and I can see the difference between my life and his life pretty easy. We were in the same school in Cuba, practicing athletics on the national team. Now, we are in the USA and I think, `He's rich and I'm poor.' I've got to wake up every morning and go to work; roll call is 8:30. He's an important person. He gets to do the same thing that he was doing all his life.''

Former water polo player Osvaldo Garcia Jr., ever the entrepreneur and opportunist, divides his time among three jobs. He works days as a lifeguard on South Beach, but when his cell phone rings, he shifts into business mode, brokering deals as a Century 21 real estate agent. Recently, he and his father, former national team coach and water polo Olympian Osvaldo Garcia Sr., began purchasing rundown houses with the intention of renovating them. In Cuba, the Garcias led far different lives. The notion of buying and selling property was completely foreign to them.

''In Cuba, when you don't have any goals and you don't look to the future, you find you can live there,'' said Garcia Jr., who was exposed to a different way of thinking by travel and illegal satellite feeds of HBO. ''When you are an ambitious person and want to see yourself in a better position, you always think about moving out of there. There's no way you can make a better life because it's always controlled by the government. In the United States, I like that it's up to you how far you want to go.''

Prior to their joint defection during a layover at the Miami airport, the Garcias devoted their time to water polo. Although both had many earlier opportunities to seek political asylum, they delayed until 1994 out of concern for family.

Poolside at a local university, Garcia Sr. strikes a familiar pose, watching his players practice as members of a club team that meets twice a week. In the water, there is enough talent to field a competitive Olympic team. But the former national team members, who are in their late 20s and early 30s, enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. Because water polo helped them defect and now bonds them together, the sport holds special meaning in their lives. They rarely think twice about the change in their priorities.

''Just one thing,'' said 50-year-old Garcia Sr., ''I would like to have been here 30 years before, to have more opportunities.''

This story ran on page F07 of the Boston Globe on 5/30/2000.

© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.



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