You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist

The Trump administration has caused a setback in sports relations between Cuba and the U.S. – affecting international volleyball competition notably, among other negative consequences. This article has detailed information on the effect of the US blockade on Cuban sport in all spheres. | 

2016.US volleyball team last played in Havana.Yaimí Ravelo

The U.S. volleyball team last played in Havana in 2016 « Yaimí Ravelo

Imagine you invite a friend to your home to converse.

Imagine that this friend wants to reciprocate, but something always gets in the way, based on external interests, to ruin this relationship.

Such a situation sparks various sentiments, none of which are pleasant. And leads one to question how such baseness can be put above the enjoyment of friendship.

Despite the fact that the United States and Cuba didn’t re-establish diplomatic relations until July 20, 2015, the Cuban Volleyball Federation (FCV) and its U.S. counterpart, USA Volleyball, maintained ties, which they decided to expand in 2016, when the two entities signed a joint collaboration agreement.

In this context, the U.S. men’s national team came to play in Havana’s Ciudad Deportiva, a step to be followed by the Cuban squad visiting the U.S., but this was not possible. Various actions followed that damaged sporting relations between the two countries.

While Lory Okimura, chairperson of USA Volleyball, has remained open to exchanges with Cuba, in September 2017, the island’s team was deprived of its right to compete in the NORCECA Continental Men’s Championship held in Colorado Springs, which offered the possibility of qualifying for the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship, held in Italy and Bulgaria this past September.

Despite the FCV completing all required forms and submitting them to the U.S. Embassy in Havana with sufficient time to process visas for the Cuban volleyball players, U.S. diplomatic personnel informed that due to a lack of staff (after the majority were withdrawn due to alleged “sonic attacks”), they were unable to process the requests.

The precepts of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) require that any country that is host to an IOC recognized event must guarantee the entry into its territory of all teams eligible to participate. The NORCECA Continental Men’s Championship was such an event.

As the Cuban delegation was unable to obtain the necessary U.S. visas in Havana, they traveled to the Dominican Republic to apply at the U.S. Embassy there instead.

That effort was also unsuccessful, and the players returned to Cuba having momentarily lost the chance to secure their ticket to the World Championship.

Faced with this situation (Puerto Rico was also unable to compete in Colorado Springs due to the damages caused by Hurricane Maria), Cuba was authorized to organize a Men’s Final Qualification Tournament in Pinar del Río, to decide the final two places at the World Championship.

Cuba and Puerto Rican secured their tickets to the 2018 competitions in Pinar del Río, but hosting the final event cost the island 58,000 dollars. Neither the pointless trip to the Dominican Republic nor the hosting of this competition in Cuba would have been necessary if the United States had honoured its obligation to guarantee Cuba’s participation in Colorado Springs.

In addition to this example of damages to the island in the field of competitive sports, Cuba has been unable to transfer 73,000 dollars worth of prizes awarded to its beach volleyball duo Sergio González and Nivaldo Díaz; and payments to its international referees Lourdes Pérez and Ricardo Borroto, to the bank account of its Volleyball Federation because U.S. banks refuse to carry out the transactions, FCV President Ariel Saínz reported.

The trials and tribulations in the field of volleyball are just one example of damages that also occur in other sports. Such obstacles, pressures on third countries not to interact with Cuba and prohibitions, cost the Cuban sports movement 80,859 dollars in damages between 2015 and 2016, which increased to 130,237 dollars in the same period a year later, and are calculated at 324,403 dollars from 2017 to date.

The damages also extend to other related spheres, such as the impossibility of acquiring supplies for the National Anti-Doping Program; and the refusal to provide teaching laboratories with the essential aids and tools to guarantee quality education in schools and teacher training.

In contrast to these attacks on Cuban sports, U.S. teams have always been warmly welcomed to the island by our people. To cite just two examples: the visits by the Major League Baseball teams Baltimore Orioles in 1999; and more recently, Tampa Bay in 2016.

Cuba remains open to dialogue and collaboration with the United States, based on respect for our dignity and sovereignty and without conditions. However, realities such as those depicted here bring to mind a phrase of former Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi: “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.”


– Cuban athletes are prevented from attending training camps and competitions in the United States. Instead, they must travel to Europe or Asia, resulting in increased travel, lodging, and facility rental costs.

– The Havana Anti-Doping Laboratory purchased gas chromatography–mass spectrometry equipment for 157,000 euros. This would have cost 34 per cent less in the U.S. market.

– U.S. brand cleats for National Baseball Series players were requested, which would have resulted in savings of more than 10,000 dollars, if they had not been purchased through third countries.

– Exchanges between Cuba and the United States in the scientific and academic sphere of sports and physical activity are hindered.

– In High Performance Sports, costs are between 40 and 50 per cent higher to obtain the minimum necessary equipment. Boxing, the pentathlon, sailing, field hockey, volleyball, archery, and athletics, are the most harmed disciplines.

– Use of the Nexy credit line, granted to the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER) for the acquisition of sporting goods from Japanese companies, has been significantly limited, since their commercial distributor for our geographical area is based in the United States.

– As a result of the blockade and the policy of the current U.S. administration, there is a downward trend in the interest of professional entities and franchises in sports exchanges with Cuba.

– Cuba was unable to import goods from the United States to improve the infrastructure of our training centres for athletes and coaches. This has resulted in the impossibility of obtaining state-of-the-art technology, medicines, recovery and dietary supplements, as well as specialized equipment and references.

– The Brazilian Wrestling Federation has been unable to transfer 52,535 dollars to Cuba, due to the blockade restrictions on bank transactions. – Cuba was unable to purchase Hobie Cat sailboats from Europe, due to the high costs.

Source: INDER report on the impact of the U.S. economic, commercial and financial blockade on Cuban sports


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