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Puerto Rico Will Benefit From Cuba's Boycott Of Central American-Caribbean Games

By Gabrielle Paese

November 8, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

It's been more than a week since the news came out from

Havana and it looks definite now. No turning back -- Cuba has pulled out of this month's Central American-Caribbean Games in El Salvador.

In an Associated Press report datelined Havana, Cuban leader Fidel Castro was quoted as saying that El Salvador was the cave of Luis Posada Carriles, whom Castro accused of plotting to kill him at the Iberamerican Summit in 2000. Cuba allegedly fears its athletes will be coaxed into defecting in San Salvador or the Miami Cubans in El Salvador will plot to kill Cuba's high-ranking sports leaders.

Whatever the real reason, Cuba's boycott of the Nov. 23 CAC Games has left the CAC Games organizing committee (COSSAL, by its Spanish acronym) scrambling this past week. Cuba was scheduled to bring one of the largest delegations of all the 32 participating countries. Both Cuba and Mexico planned to bring 800 all told, with Cuba slated to send 542 athletes (including Cuba, COSSAL's total athlete count was 4,842).

Cuba's boycott forced the Central American-Caribbean Sports Organization (ODECABE, by its Spanish acronym) to do some major regrouping. The first rule to go out the window was that five-country minimum by-law -- the old CAC Games rule that an event will only be held if athletes from five countries register for it.

Last week, ODECABE secretary and Puerto Rico Olympic Committee president Hector Cardona said the new minimum would be four. Cuba was one of the few countries registered to participate in just about every sport and every event and scratching them at the last minute meant some events were left with just four countries registered. ODECABE reiterated last week that it's not taking any late entrants for any reason.

The only loophole in the registration process, according to Cardona, was in the first cut.

"If a country initially registered an athlete in the first registration back in September, but later cut the athlete out, he can still be included,"said Cardona. "Also, athletes who are registered for one event can add others."

That means that if an athlete was registered to compete in rhythmic gymnastics, she could also compete in weightlifting, right? Well, theoretically, Cardona said, but in reality, the logic would dictate that the rhythmic gymnast could also participate in artistic gymnastics as well.

"Costa Rica sent us a letter asking to include an athlete in its delegation, but registration closed Oct. 28. ODECABE is not making any exceptions," said Cardona.

Not even to save it's own event. The early count was that some 52 events were in danger of not meeting the five-country minimum, but with the rule change, most events in the 33 sports look like they got the green light.

There were some notable exceptions. The decathlon bit the dust this week, with only Puerto Rico, Guatemala and Mexico registered. ODECABE tried to squeak Venezuela's Marcos Reyes through at that last minute, but he was stopped at the gate. Venezuela's Olympic Committee had never included him in that initial registration process. Puerto Rico's decathlete, Luiggy Llanos, has been injured for most of 2002, but was reportedly in shape and ready for the CAC Games.

Ironically, the decathlon would have been canceled anyway, with or without Cuba. Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guatemala and Mexico are only four countries and the decathlon would not have met ODECABE's prior five-country minimum.

However, these are just details, minutiae that will never make it into the history books. Nor will the record books make note anywhere of Cuba's absence from these games. As Castro said in 1993 after a whole plane-load of his athletes defected from the CAC Games in Ponce, Puerto Rico, "El que se fue, no hace falta,"which very loosely translated means, "Those who have gone, won't be missed."

Cuba will miss out by not competing in El Salvador. These regional games are one of that country's few opportunities to show off its success in the world of sports.

Puerto Rican sports leaders admit that the island's 285 athletes have better chances at gold medals in El Salvador in Cuba's absence, but in many cases, Puerto Rico's athletes have already proved themselves superior to their Cuban counterparts in 2002.

Already this year, Ineabelle Diaz knocked the socks off her Cuban rival at the Pan American Taekwondo Championships in Ecuador. Just this past week, wrestler Mabel Fonseca finished third in the world with a bronze medal at the World Wrestling Championships. Her Cuban rival did not make it to the finals. No one on Cuba's women's tennis team is any match for Puerto Ricans Kristina Brandi and Vilmarie Castelvi. Fencer Jonathan Pena still is the favorite to win the gold in the epee competition.

It's true that Cuba would have been favored, not just for its talent, but also because its delegation simply outnumbered most of the other 31. And Cuba hasn't missed a CAC Games since 1959.

But Puerto Rico's athletes who win gold medals in El Salvador later this month, will win because they give it their best, not because Cuba was a no-show.

Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at

Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.

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