The Cubans won their eighth consecutive baseball gold medal at the Pan American Games Monday night, but a local tabloid ran a different score on its front page today: "Defectors 5, Cubans 0."
The headline summarizes the frustrations of the Cuban delegation at these Games: Cuban athletes are succeeding in competition (39 gold medals and counting) but attention seems centered instead on defections and security issues.
"I think that what [the Cubans] are upset with is the issue around the defects, rather than looking at the athletes themselves, or the competition and the quality of the competition," said Don MacKenzie, president of the Pan American Games Society. "So they felt that the media was focusing on something that they should not have."
Attempts to reach the Cuban delegation today were unsuccessful.
The Cuban delegation came to the Games with 522 athletes and 322 "officials and handlers." Still, there have been five Cuban defections reported by the media: a pistol shooter, a track and field athlete, a softball trainer, a journalist, and, most recently, a baseball player.
But a spokeswoman for the Citizenship and Immigration Centre in Winnipeg said today that only four individuals have made refugee claims. Under Canada's privacy act, however, the department cannot issue any identifying information about the claimants.
Throughout the Games, the Cuban delegation has expressed concern about agents lurking outside of the athletes' village at the Canadian Forces Base. There have been reports of agents slipping written offers to athletes through fences at the village, and of people outside of the village shining flashlights into the athletes' rooms.
Security for the Cuban athletes became a major issue following Sunday's semifinal baseball game between Cuba and Canada. In the ninth inning of that game, a protestor ran on the field carrying a sign that read, "Human Right First." Two Cuban players with a Cuban flag ran out of the dugout after the protestor, and second baseman Juan Padilla punched the man before the protestor was led off the field.
Later Sunday night, there was an altercation outside a Canadian Broadcast Station that involved the protestor and two members of the Cuban delegation. No charges were filed, according to Frank Minaker, staff sergeant with the Winnipeg Police Service. The protestor, who was from Miami, was kept in custody because he had entered the country illegally.
In response to the incident at the baseball game, the Cuban delegation issued a statement on Monday that read, in part, "The incident motivated by a provoker . . . clearly demonstrates that not even most elemental measures of protection are being afforded our sportsman in the Games. . . . From now on we will reply with full force to any provocation. The hosts have to fulfill their responsibilities, we will fulfill ours whatever the price we have to pay."
MacKenzie said that his organization has responded to the Cubans' concerns. Security surrounding the village has been increased, and security personnel at the venues have been repositioned, so they are closer to the field of play.
"This is not new. I think that every time the Cubans go to a games they have these problems," MacKenzie said. "What we assured the Cuban delegation was that we would beef up the security around the villages and around the venues themselves. What we've done is try to eliminate the harassment at the villages. What we've done is patrol those streets along the village themselves and asked those people to move on. We've had no problems since."
The treatment of the Cubans by the local media has been another matter. A sampling of headlines in local newspapers in the past week include "Cuban Defects: Game within the Games begins" and "Castro `lost his marbles.' "
On July 21 -- two days before the opening ceremonies -- the Winnipeg Sun published an article that described how local officials would handle athletes seeking asylum in Canada. The headline read: "Cops ready for defectors." The Cubans were unhappy with the article, saying that it encouraged athletes to seek asylum.
In his annual Revolution Day speech on July 26, Fidel Castro said that the Pan Am Games were "full of scouts seeking athletes, advertising in the press -- either subtly or openly, directly or indirectly, on television and other media -- exhorting people to defect. . . . It is in such an adverse and hostile environment that our teams are competing there."
In response, the Sun printed an entry form for the "Come on down to Cuba contest":
"It seems Fidel is a bit upset with our coverage. We like Cuba and don't want any hard feelings, so we're sending a lucky reader to the island this winter. The winner receives airfare and one-week hotel accommodations for two. Cigars not included. All you have to do is correctly guess the number of defections before the Pan Am Games end."
The 42 Chefs de Mission issued a statement on Saturday that denounced the treatment of the Cuban athletes and officials by the media and sports agents.
A group called the Manitoba-Cuba Solidarity Committee has organized a demonstration for Wednesday afternoon outside of the Winnipeg Convention Center, which houses, among other things, the press center.
The group plans to protest "against the Winnipeg media's hostile and shameful targeting of Cuba's sports delegation during the Pan American Games, using rumors and speculation not facts."