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Saturday, 5 October, 2002, 00:32 GMT 01:32 UK
Cuban baseball star and coach defect
US baseball players
Several top Cuban players have deserted their country
The Cuban authorities have confirmed that one of the country's top baseball players, Jose Ariel Contreras, and the coach of the national team, Miguel Valdes, have defected.


The coach scandalously betrayed the trust deposited in him by our people

Cuban Baseball Federation
The two men disappeared during the Americas Series baseball tournament in Mexico. They failed to appear for a match on Thursday against Venezuela.

The Cuban Baseball Federation branded both of them traitors in a statement announcing their desertion.

They join the string of players who defected from the communist country during the 1990s, some of whom have gone on to play for top US teams.

Low-paid heroes

Contreras, a right-handed pitcher, helped Cuba win the gold medal in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and the world championships in Taipei last year.

Orlando Hernandez
Orlando Hernandez defected in 1995
He was also a silver medallist with Cuba's baseball team in the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

The Baseball Federation blamed his defection on coach Valdes, whom it claimed had encouraged the 30-year-old star to leave.

"The coach scandalously betrayed the trust deposited in him by our people," said a statement released jointly by the federation and the National Sport Institute.

But they were quick to stress that while Contreras' defection deprived the country of an "excellent pitcher at his best", there were plenty of others capable of taking his place.

Baseball is as popular in Cuba as it is in the United States but - unlike in America - its rewards are mostly adulation from the fans: players receive only a few dollars more than the average wage.

Two top Cuban defectors now playing in the US Major League are Livian Hernandez, who left seven years ago, and his half-brother Orlando, who pitches for the New York Yankees.

In addition to baseball stars, a steady stream of Cubans leave the country and its one-party socialist system each week, correspondents say.

See also:

27 Jun 02 | Americas
04 Jul 02 | Americas
27 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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