By ENVER VILLAMIZAR
On July 15, 2015 the coach of Cuba’s rowing team to the Pan American Games, Juan Carlos Reyes, confirmed that four of Cuba’s rowers had left Canada for the United States. The Globe and Mail and other media outlets pounced on the story, reporting on it in a manner that sheds no light on the issue at the heart of this story. The impression is conveyed that those who abandon their team are “defectors,” a term reserved for those who flee oppression and persecution. This feeds a narrative which claims they are fleeing to freedom. Media reports speculated on the motivation of the rowers, using quotes from professional U.S. “recruiter” Joe Kehoskie, to cobble together a story that imposes the predetermined conclusions of a Cold War mindset.
It is important for Canadians to understand that it is not Cuba but the United States that is depriving these athletes of freedom. How the U.S. abuses their rights is a sad tale which deserves to be known.
The Globe article quoted the “recruiter” Kehoskie, saying he has “helped” other Cuban athletes “defect.” The Globe suggested that the number of “defectors” could reach double digits, creating a sense that Cuba’s team was under siege.
“It really couldn’t be easier for these guys. All they needed to do if they defected in St. Catharines is cross one of the bridges into the United States and physically present themselves at an immigration checkpoint,” said Kehoskie, described as an “agent who has helped several Cubans cross into the U.S.” The Globe did not ask what such a “recruiter” has been paid for this “help” in the past and by whom, and whether he or others like him were active during the Pan American Games in Canada. And they did not ask why such activity is not considered a form of human trafficking in Canada, something the Harper government claims it is dead-set against.
The article used various quotes that would lead readers to conclude that the athletes must have left due to conditions in Cuba as rowers would not likely be in line for big incentives or contracts in the U.S. “[P]eople don’t target rowers or cyclists or athletes that aren’t worth potentially big money,” Kehoskie said. The monopoly media failed to point out how Kehoskie speaks in the same manner a slave trader might refer to the relative value of his slaves or a horse trader to his horses.
The framework of media coverage was that Cubans defect and abandon their national teams and country because something is wrong in Cuba. This serves to prevent readers from learning how U.S. law offers all kinds of enticements to Cubans who wish to emigrate to the U.S. if, and only if, they claim status in the U.S. and renounce their homeland, a choice forced upon them that is not demanded of citizens of other countries.
An article on Cuba’s Pan American Games 2015 website (cubapanam2015.ca) entitled, “Why Do We Not Play in the Major Leagues?” by Roberto Ramírez, outlines how Cuba is targeted by U.S. sporting clubs that hope to traffic its athletes and make money off of them in the professional leagues. This is particularly the case in baseball. Why would any self-respecting media outlet give pride of place in its reporting to someone who traffics in human beings?
Athletes from other countries who want to compete in the United States’ professional leagues do not have to renounce their homelands and agree, as part of their contract, that they will not be permitted to return home. However, that is how the U.S. blockade of Cuba functions. For a Cuban athlete to play in professional leagues in the U.S. they need only touch U.S. soil and declare they are seeking permanent residency and have no intention of returning to Cuba. In other words, they are expected to renounce who they are and go along with attempts by the U.S. government to humiliate and undermine their country’s government and political system. If they do not do this they are not paid. The excuse is that the U.S. blockade does not permit financial transactions with Cubans.
This constitutes a form of blackmail that encourages the worst kind of human trafficking and should not be permitted in any modern society. Whether or not this type of trafficking was used with respect to the rowers, the reason Cuban athletes are put into this position is the same: the U.S. does not permit normal relations between the two countries because its aim is to undermine Cuba’s right to decide its own economic and political affairs and the nature of its social system. The blockade imposes this aim and should be condemned by anyone who believes that sport should not be a venue for imperialist blackmail.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is promoted all over the world as the go-to country in sports. There is a huge brawn drain to the U.S., even from Canada.
For example, many athletes in all kinds of disciplines seek out scholarships to U.S. universities or colleges in hopes of receiving an education along with high-level training.
Media reports such as in the Globe also divert attention from the fact that despite the illegal U.S. blockade, Cuba has made sport a fundamental right of all Cubans which has resulted in a plethora of excellent athletes and coaches who are patriotic.
In addition, Cuba helps to train coaches and athletes of other nations for free on the condition that they return to their home countries and develop their sporting programs. Athletes do not have to renounce who they are. Cuba does not poach or traffic in the athletes of other countries. It contributes to the development of other nations.
Many athletes on sports scholarships outside their home countries compete for their homelands in international competitions like the Olympics and Pan American Games. In professional soccer, arrangements are made to “loan” athletes between clubs in different countries. Some clubs make contractual provisions for players to play for their respective national teams in international competitions while maintaining their status on the professional teams.
Why should such arrangements not be made for Cubans in the U.S.? Why do the media not inform the Canadian people of this state of affairs, so they can take a principled stand – one that regards all nations as equal, promotes friendly relations among peoples and countries and condemns human trafficking. Thus armed, the Canadian people could demand that their government contribute to ending the U.S. blockade of Cuba so athletes do not fall prey to human traffickers, forced to renounce who they are in order to be in the U.S. or play in the majors. Instead of speculating on why individual athletes leave Cuba, which only serves to decontextualize what is happening and hide the real problems, the media could make a contribution by shining a light on how the U.S. blockade has imposed this state of affairs on Cuba and its people and that lifting the blockade is long overdue.