Fri, Mar 30, 2012 - Page 18 News List

Cuban soccer player might be trying to defect to US

Reuters, NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE

A Cuban soccer player who might be trying to defect in the US left his team while it was in Tennessee for an Olympic qualifying tournament, local media reported on Wednesday.

US authorities declined to comment on the location of Cuban defensive player Yosmel de Armas, who was not with the team when it left a downtown Nashville hotel on Tuesday, according to local television station WZTV Fox-17.

Another Cuban player told WZTV that De Armas had left the team.

When De Armas was absent from Monday night’s final game in the tournament against Canada, the Cuban coach said the player was sick and had stayed at the hotel. De Armas had played on Saturday night when Cuba lost 4-0 to El Salvador.

Metro Nashville Police referred all inquiries to the US Department of Justice. The US Marshals Service and the US Department of Homeland Security had no comment about the player or his possible defection.

Tournament sponsor, the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football Association, would not comment on his whereabouts either.

There is a history of Cuban athletes defecting to pursue a potentially lucrative professional career outside communist-run Cuba. Seven members of Cuba’s Olympic soccer team defected in Florida in 2008 after a game against the US.

“This is another case of a Cuban sportsman trying to get a decent life, to try to take control of his own career,” said Omar Lopez, general director of the Cuban American National Foundation, a Miami-based group that represents Cuban exiles.

“There is a constant flow of defections from the Cuban sports machine,” said Lopez, who emigrated from Cuba in 1992.

“Most of these guys have family in the US or a friend. Many Cuban players have defected before and they keep contact,” he said.

“Through a friend they send a message: ‘I plan to defect and I’m going to this event,’ and probably a family member or friend is there to help them defect,” he added.

Once the player feels safe, “finally they come to an immigration office,” he said.

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