Mary Anastasia O’Grady The Wall Street Journal
Cuban baseball set a new record in recent weeks when half of its under-23 national team—12 members—defected in Mexico during a World Cup tournament. According to the Miami daily El Nuevo Herald, the previous record was set in 1996 when five Cuban players, also competing in Mexico, opted not to return home.
In other news from the island, the Free Cuban Medical Guild reports that 76 Cuban healthcare workers—mostly doctors—who received one of Cuba’s three-dose Covid-19 vaccines have died of the disease. Judging by that data alone, the much-ballyhooed Cuban biomedical industry appears to be, shall we say, a bit overrated.
Welcome to the disintegration of “the revolution.” From baseball to national healthcare, Cuba is in tatters. And despite unprecedented repression, Cubans, in ever greater numbers, are finding ways to say so.
The ballplayers were part of what the regime called its “patriots” team because they were supposed to embody youthful zeal for the communist state. Instead, when they saw freedom, they bolted—though not all at once. First three went missing, and then another three. Later reports trickled in of one here and two there who failed to show up when expected.
The 12th, according to El Nuevo Herald, vanished while on a team shopping trip to Walmart. He could hardly have chosen a more poetic escape from a life sentence of deep privation, disappearing as he did in a big-box store that screams capitalism. Viva la libertad.
The military dictatorship condemned the players for “vile abandonment.” It’s especially outraged because during the Obama administration it had a deal with Major League Baseball to send players to the U.S. In exchange, baseball executives agreed to garnish part of the paychecks of the young men—most of whom are Cubans of color—and send the dollars to regime fat cats in Havana. President Trump nixed that arrangement because while treating Cuban talent like chattel would be a money-maker for the league and the dictatorship, human-trafficking is against U.S. law.
Defecting is risky. In 2007 when two Cuban boxers defected at the Pan American games in Brazil, then-President Lula da Silva had federal police arrest them; they were returned to Cuba. Like Lula, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is an apologist for Havana. He recently feted Cuban dictator Miguel Díaz-Canel at Mexican Independence Day celebrations. A few days later Mexico’s foreign minister received Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro. Some of the players already have agents, but as long as any of them are within the reach of the totalitarians in Havana or their allies, the perilous flight is not over.
In a column last week, El Nuevo Herald sportswriter Jorge Ebro shed light on the motivations of the players who defected by considering those who didn’t: “Those who decided to return know that they return, as one said in a private message, to blackouts and to the same slow dying from day to day, to that everyday nothingness where suddenly you realize that you have grown old and your talent to play baseball, a lot or a little, is useless.”
The dictatorship’s disastrous handling of Covid-19 may also be to blame for the exodus of the players.
The regime says it has been vaccinating the population since mid-May and claims that it has reached more than 80% of Cubans with at least the first dose of one of its three-dose vaccines—Abdala, Soberana 02 or Soberana Plus. Cubans are not told which vaccine they receive. But no independent agency, anywhere in the world, has evaluated and certified any of the three. The Miami-based Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba told me last week that it has a documented case of an individual who received all three doses of one of the Cuban vaccines but who, when tested in Miami, had zero antibodies.
The high number of deaths among vaccinated healthcare workers, as reported by the medical guild, and media reports last month of surging infections and deaths—including in the military hierarchy—despite the vaccine campaign suggest something is wrong. Yet it’s impossible to know what because of the regime’s deliberate lack of transparency when it comes to healthcare. Those who raise questions are often punished, like vocational-school professor Julio Merladet, who was fired last week, and Dr. Manuel Guerra, who wasdetained over the weekend.
The Cuban pharmaceutical business is particularly sensitive because the regime hopes to use its lab research to raise hard currency and advance its image as a benevolent police state. It has already exported Abdala to Venezuela, and Cuban vaccines are headed for Vietnam. Mr. López Obrador said in July that Mexico is interested in buying shots from Havana. Iran is also on Cuba’s short list of potential customers.
Yet peer-reviewed clinical trials are nonexistent, which makes these populations guinea pigs and means the World Health Organization is again not doing its job.