On defection and citizenship..and baseball, of courseMarch 21, 2009 at 2:30 am | Posted in Baseball, Major League Baseball, Minda's Take, Minor Leagues, Sports Culture | 1 Comment
No matter what sport you like; whether you’re a casual observer, an obsessive stat-geek (me!), an ogler of attractive athletes (also me…), or some other level of fan, it’s important to remember that sports are played by people. And the thing about people is, they have stories.
I met Brayan Pena, a catcher in the Royals system, last year. I knew he was Cuban, I knew he had a sparkling and omnipresent smile, I knew he could hit pretty well, and that was about everything I knew.
There was a LOT that I didn’t know. His story, as told by mlb.com’s Dick Kaegel, is pretty incredible.
What I didn’t know was that Pena had to evade security guards and slip out of a bathroom window in Caracas when he was a teenager; that he left his beloved family behind to pursue a hope of a better life as an American ballplayer. That was ten years ago.
He’s a newly-minted American citizen now, a happy ending to a dangerous defection. His family was safely – and legally – extracted from Cuba as well, and lives in the States.
Here’s some larger legal context about baseball defectors from Cuba:
Cuba is one of the few countries in the world that prohibits its citizens from leaving without government permission, a violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Because Cuba’s athletic teams compete internationally the participants are constantly shadowed by members of Cuba’s state security apparatus. The primary objective of Cuban state security is to prevent defections which embarrass the Castro regime and deplete the country of athletic talent. In Democratic countries like the United States this presents a perverse situation where Cuban athletes are basically deprived of their rights to move freely. If an athlete does manage to defect his family is not permitted to leave Cuba as a form of punishment. Often Cuban defectors must then pay human smugglers to extract their families from the island.
Very interesting, to say the least.