London 2012: The Door to Freedom

Thousands of Cubans are dreaming of becoming elite athletes these days. Yet, their desire to join the ranks of the best athletes of the planet is not motivated by the ambition to win a gold medal or to set a new record, leaving half the world drop-jawed. In fact, their longing could be better described as an urge to start a race without waiting to hear the starter pistol go off.

In connection with London 2012 Olympics, all Cubans – regardless of their social class or circumstances, have started to fantasise about the possibility of escape, a topic that has become a very important part of the Cuban culture. The last case of emigration of athletes occurred less than a month ago, when five players of the national basketball team escaped to the neighbouring island of Puerto Rico to fulfil their dream, which they must have been cherishing for years. The upcoming Olympic Games held in the UK capital open up possibilities for new cases of desertion, which are sure to occur in future.

If no member of the team of Cuban representatives decamps in the course of the Olympic games, it will be due to increased surveillance of the athletes rather than their blind adherence to the advice traditionally given by the leaders of the National Institute of Sports and Recreation (INDER – a state organization that holds a monopoly in the sports sector in Cuba) to sports representatives before they set out on a journey.

However, in spite of the patriotic speeches and the athletes’ commitment to return to the country, as soon as their participation in various races and competitions finishes, they start developing strategies and seize the slightest opportunity to escape the host country’s immigration authorities.

Experience shows that such acts of desertion are nothing rare: various athletes participating in sporting events abroad who have fled the country were persons whom the regime wouldn’t expect to take such a decision. It is well known that in order to make a successful escape, one needs to employ a thorough strategy of double standards in order to gain the trust of informers, secret agents and plainclothes police, who always make a company to athletes representing the country abroad.

It should be noted that 27 athletes have fled the country so far this year – a figure that can be thought of as low only if compared to the number of sports representatives who returned to the island after completing their mission in various regional or worldwide tournaments. However, the fact that the majority of competitors choose to return to Cuba (regardless of the reason) does not diminish the importance of the situation. Quite the contrary. One emigration alone, one athlete who manages to circumvent control measures strengthened to the maximum is sufficient to expose the prison-like nature of the regime, which is pretending to be a model of decency and respect for Human Rights .

Tens of thousands of people have drowned in the Florida Straits during the 53 years of the socialist government after they saw that the earthly paradise they had been promised turned out to be a shortcut to hell. Their desire to flee from the country made them board any floating object they could obtain only to find death in the jaws of a shark or in ocean turbulence. From this perspective, a flight taken during a sporting event can be perceived as the best choice.

It is thus no wonder that many Cubans envy the athletes selected to participate in the upcoming Olympics, as London will become the door to freedom for them. How many of them will be able to slip through it?

Autor

Olivera Castillo is a former political prisoner. He published number of books. He lives in the old part of Havana.

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