Yasiel Puig received threats from human traffickers, reports say

April 17, 2014

Yasiel Puig peers out from the dugout during a recent game. (Ralph Freso / AP)

Yasiel Puig wasn’t exaggerating when he said last year that the story of his defection from Cuba would be made into a movie one day. Details that have emerged in a Los Angeles magazine story and in an ESPN magazine story are harrowing.

The Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder has received threats from the human traffickers who arranged for his defection to Mexico in 2012, a five-month investigation by ESPN showed. The details of Puig’s escape include wading through crocodile-infested waters and being held captive by the Mexican-based trafficking ring off the coast of Cancun as it awaited payment from someone in Miami. Puig and three others were being held and were threatened when the money did not arrive.

“I don’t know if you could call it a kidnapping,” Yunior Despaigne, one of the defectors with Puig and his friend since childhood, told Los Angeles Magazine’s Jesse Katz, “because we had gone there voluntarily, but we also weren’t free to leave. If they didn’t receive the money, they were saying that at any moment they might give him a machetazo [hit him with a machete], chop off an arm, a finger, whatever, and he would never play baseball again, not for anyone.”

A rival trafficking ring rescued him and his group and took them to Mexico City.

Equally frightening — and an issue that baseball is going to have to address — is the fact that Puig wasn’t safe after he signed a $42 million contract with the Dodgers. Twenty percent of his signing bonus went to the second trafficking ring, ESPN reports in a story by Scott Eden entitled “No one walks off the island,” a fact that led a member of the group that held him captive to show up at a team hotel and demand payment.

On Wednesday, Puig, the 23-year-old who was runnerup in the voting for National League Rookie of the Year last year, responded to the stories in a statement issued by his agent, Adam Katz, and posted on the Dodgers’ webite: “I‘m aware of the recent articles and news accounts. I understand that people are curious and have questions, but I will have no comment on this subject. I’m represented on this matter, and I’m only focused on being a productive teammate and helping the Dodgers win games.”If only it were that simple, if only the story had such a happy ending. The issues are going to resonate in court next. From ESPN:

Puig is being sued for $12 million in Florida in an action that alleges he wrongfully accused a man of attempting to set up a prior defection. The plaintiff, a Cuban citizen, was sentenced to seven years in jail as a result of Puig’s testimony. The suit has been filed in the United States under the Torture Victims Protection Act, a piece of human rights legislation signed by George H.W. Bush in 1992.

Informant tactics are referred to as denunciations. According to ESPN The Magazine’s interviews with Cuban ballplayers in the U.S., both retired and active, former Cuban government officials and former Cuban and American spies, denunciations are common among Cuban athletes trying to avoid harsh penalties from the government following unsuccessful defections.

In a case similar to Puig’s, a Florida family seeks $18 million from Chapman. Neither Puig nor Chapman has yet been found liable. The Chapman case is scheduled for trial on Nov. 17. The judge in Puig’s suit is deliberating a second motion to dismiss.

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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Cindy Boren · April 17, 2014