The Gourriel's 'Desertion'
Some 100 baseball players have escaped from Cuba in recent months. But the case of the Gourriel brothers is not just one more on the list. Not only because of their caliber as players, and because they comprise a true athletic dynasty on Island (their father, Lourdes, was a star during the sport's glorious heyday, in Fidel Castro's view) but because through so many years of crisis and fiascos, the Gourriel brothers, at least publicly, had remained on the side of a Government that coddled them.
In 2014 Yulieski Gourriel even stated that his dream was to play in the Big Leagues, with Havana's blessing. His "desertion" - a term with a military connotation which Castroism continues to wield to condemn citizens who leave the island - evidences how the Castros' attempts to find a channel for direct negotiations to send Cuban players to the majors will not guarantee the players' freedom or make possible individual decisionmaking. Rather, the Castros will continue to meddle in any personal initiatives that might threaten their power, seeking to benefit from their roles as intermediaries.
The Gourriels' flight is also a stain on Havana's media strategy. In December several Cuban stars visited the island as part of a delegation from the MLB. It was a spectacle, but nothing from the visit yielded any concrete policies serving to promote the freedom and prosperity of Cuban athletes in general. Barely a month after the stars' visit, the regime blocked boxer Luis Ortiz from returning to Cuba to visit his sick mother. As almost always happens with Castroism, much is done in the realms of symbolism and public relations, but nothing to pass laws or take measures to rescue the country from its quagmire.
During the visit by the delegation from the Big Leagues there was no official reference to the hundreds of Cuban athletes who have been stigmatised and erased from the national record books for opting to leave the country, much less an apology by the authorities responsible for this arbitrary marginalization.
It's simple: all Cubans should be able to come and go from the country whenever they like. As long as the Castro regime seeks to thwart this fundamental right, people will continue to leave. If this keeps up we will have to hang the famous sign on El Morro: "The last one to leave: please turn off the light."