Cuban basketball player defects
Thursday, July 31, 2014 | 4:01 AM
HAVANA, Scotland – A player on Cuba’s national basketball team, Alexei
Mestre, has defected ahead of a tournament in Mexico, the official
newspaper Granma said Wednesday.
Granma obliquely disclosed the defection in an item on the Centrobasquet
tournament which said another player, Osmel Oliva, would be point guard
“after Alexei Mestre’s desertion.”
Mestre, 27, played with the Cuban team during a series of exhibition
matches in China.
The Cuban team then played a friendly in El Salvador and the Caribbean
basketball championship tournament last month in Tortola, Virgin
Islands, where Mestre presumably defected.
His departure comes as the team was beginning to recover from nearly two
decades of decline, after being hurt by a wave of defections.
The most dramatic were two mass defections in 1999 and 2012 that nearly
forced the team to forfeit tournaments in Puerto Rico for lack of players.
In January 2013, Cuba eliminated legal barriers to foreign travel, but
that did not end the defections of artists and athletes, who remain
susceptible to the lure of higher pay abroad.
In an attempt to stem the losses, Cuba last year raised salaries of
athletes, and began allowing them to sign contracts with foreign clubs.
But in early June, two members of Cuba’s Davis Cup tennis team defected
in Puerto Rico as did eight dancers from the Ballet Nacional de Cuba.
Although they are not always reported in the Cuban press, the defections
have hit hardest in baseball, boxing and volleyball, sports where Cuban
stars can command big salaries internationally.
Cuba is in the A Group of the Centrobasquet tournament in Nayarit,
Mexico, along with Jamaica, Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
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