Pan Am Games: 4 members of Cuban rowing team defect to U.S., coach say
Four Cuban rowers have defected to the U.S. during the Pan Am Games, according to the team’s coach, a move one agent says is likely due to economic conditions inside Cuba.
Coach Juan Carlos Reyes says Leosmel Ramos, Wilber Turro, Manuel Suarez and Orlando Sotolongo have left the team and travelled to the United States. There are more than 150 Cuban athletes at the Pan Am Games, competing in a range of sports.
Reyes says Ramos and Turro dropped out before the regatta began on Saturday while Suarez and Sotolongo were in earlier races and then withdrew. Sotolongo won a silver medal at the Games and made a Facebook post about his love for Cuba shortly before leaving the team.
Two Cuban baseball players, Luis Yander La O and Yadiel Hernandez, previously defected during a tune-up competition in North Carolina the week before the Games.
Joe Kehoskie, a U.S.-based agent who has represented several Cuban baseball players, said the defections are likely driven by the economic conditions inside Cuba rather than the chance to pursue a sports career in the U.S.
While the U.S. is in the process of normalizing relations with Cuba, including a recent agreement to reopen embassies, Kehoskie said many Cubans are more concerned with leaving the island now than ever. That’s because, he said, the U.S. may end its “wet foot/dry foot” policy, which allows any Cuban who steps foot on U.S. soil to remain in the country.
U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to keep the policy earlier this year. The Cuban government opposes it, saying the policy promotes illegal immigration and human trafficking.(Source: CBC News)