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Seven Cuban athletes defect to Chile after Pan American Games

According to sport journalist Francys Romero, 61 Cubans have broken their contracts or defected so far this year

jugadoras de hockey de Cuba durante los Juegos Panamericanos Santiago 2023
The Cuban field hockey team at the Pan American Games, on October 26.Carlos Ortega (EFE)

Six Cuban women’s field hockey players and another Cuban athlete left the Cuban delegation in the Pan American Village, where the athletes had been stayed during the Pan American Games in Santiago de Chile. On Monday night, it was confirmed that they contacted a Chilean law firm to regulate their immigration status. Cuban athletes often defect when they leave the island to compete.

The Chilean government of Gabriel Boric reported that no one in the group has so far presented any type of requirement to settle in Chile. The athletes have a 90-day visa, which can be renewed after 90 days.

Neither the Chilean government nor the Pan American Sports Organization, known as Panam Sports, have confirmed the reports, because Cuba has not made an official announcement. There is not even a consensus on how many people have defected: some local media have only referred to the six hockey players, while others include Yoao Illas, who won the bronze medal in hurdles.

Cuban sports journalist Francys Romero was the first to break the news. At 8:16 p.m. on Saturday, the reporter posted on social media that six hockey players had “deserted” the Cuban delegation one day before the end of the championship. “The players left the delegation at noon after finishing the fifth place game that they lost against Uruguay (3-0),” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

According to Romero, the athletes in question are Yunia Milanes (the team captain), Jennifer Martínez, Yakira Guillén, Lismary González, Helec Carta and Geidy Morales. Some 61 Cuban athletes have broken contracts or defected so far this year, according to Romero.

Mihail Bonito, the lawyer representing the athletes, gave more details on Monday night. “This morning, a group of female athletes of the Cuban national team of the same specialty [field hockey], asked us for support to stay in Chile, after having left their delegation last Saturday. Given the above, we have decided to take on the pro bono legal representation of these athletes.”

In 2016, Santiago Ford also defected after competing in the World Youth Championship in Poland. In 2018, he boarded a plane to Guyana and from there he undertook a long journey by land to Chile, where he became a citizen at the end of last year. At this year’s Pan American Games, he won a gold medal for Chile in the decathlon.

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