On the desertion of César Prieto
by Roberto M. Yepe
May 27, 2021
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
No one should be surprised that a baseball player dreams of playing and succeeding in the Major Leagues, just as any soccer player can dream of playing in the leagues of England, Spain, Germany or Italy. It is a perfectly natural and irreproachable aspiration.
The U.S. government’s policy against the people of Cuba makes it impossible for a Cuban baseball player to try to fulfill that dream in the same way that a player from any other country could, by means of legal and contractual mechanisms that allow each party involved (athletes and sports federations of the countries involved) to protect their legitimate interests.
For decades, this situation has allowed athlete traffickers and the Major Leagues to benefit from numerous Cuban athletes, trained for years in their country of origin, without having to make the corresponding consideration, compensation or economic indemnification to the Cuban Baseball Federation.
In the face of such flagrant theft of sports talent, it should be expected that the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER) is keeping a detailed historical inventory in all sports disciplines, with the corresponding updated economic valuation of the compensations due to the Cuban sports federations, which could be very useful the day the U.S. government decides to return to a civilized dialogue with its Cuban counterpart.
On the other hand, while the desire of a baseball player to play in the Major Leagues is irreproachable, the decision of an athlete to abandon a team while taking advantage of an international commitment, leaving his teammates in a compromising situation and disappointing an entire people who are waiting for the results of their national team, is totally reprehensible from an ethical point of view.
However, in this commentary I would like to emphasize the economic dimension of the issue. Sports activity in Cuba is ultimately financed by each of the Cuban citizens who, directly or indirectly, contribute economically to the State. Therefore, Cuban citizens have every right to demand and receive the consideration corresponding to the financing of sports activity in Cuba, which is none other than the duty of athletes to represent local teams and national teams with dedication, professionalism and dignity.
For his preparation in the national baseball team and to be able to get to Florida, César Prieto was totally financed by Cuban citizens, in order to cover his salary, food, lodging, transportation, medical attention, visa procedures, plane ticket, among other possible expenses. Given their decision to defect, one might wonder who will compensate the Cuban citizens for the economic damage caused. In Cuba’s current situation (pandemic, intensified economic blockade, generalized shortages and deep economic crisis), it should be kept in mind that the expenses destined to the preparation of Cuban athletes must necessarily be subtracted from the resources available for the medical care of the sick and convalescents of the Covid-19, the feeding of Cuban children and the care of our elderly, just to mention three examples.
I do not feel the slightest personal animosity against Cesar Prieto, not even now that he has decided to carry the heavy stigma of desertion for the rest of his life. I have long admired his extraordinary athletic talent and, in fact, have been hoping for a couple of years now that he would find a way to make his way to the Major Leagues.
I only wish he had done so with dignity and courage, freeing himself of his commitments to the Cuban Baseball Federation beforehand. However, I understand that in this day and age, perhaps that is too much to ask and that, ultimately, his defection is just one of the many systemic effects of the criminal policy of the U.S. government against the Cuban people.
The permanence and the intensification of such policy raise the need for the Cuban State, taking advantage of the current process of legal reforms, to establish more effective and sophisticated contractual and legal mechanisms to protect the economic rights of citizens against the damages caused by sports defections. If we multiply the case of César Prieto by all the desertions that have historically occurred in national teams in all sports disciplines, we could see the considerable economic damage caused to the Cuban people by the theft of sports talent.
Although I am not an expert in the matter, I wonder if the properties of all kinds that the sports deserters might have left in Cuba could not be seized, confiscated or used in some way to compensate for the economic damage caused to the Cuban people. On the other hand, the corresponding administrative and legal mechanisms should be established so that the sports deserters, if one day they decide to visit or return to the country, would have to assume the corresponding civil liability and compensate the people for the economic damages caused.
Obviously, the application of mechanisms of this nature should not be limited to sports deserters, but should be extended to all professional fields.