CATHARINES, ONT.-The coach of the Cuban rowing team says four rowers have defected from the Pan American Games. The rowing venue for the Olympics-style competition is in St. Catharines, Ont., south of Toronto and about 30 miles from the US border at Buffalo, New York.
Reyes said Ramos and Turro dropped out before the regatta began Saturday, while the defection of Sotolongo and Suarez caused Cuba to drop out of the lightweight men’s four Wednesday.
“Their prospects for earning an exceptional income … in the United States is pretty high”, he said.
Pan-American Games officials said Wednesday there were not aware of any defections.
CEO for the Toronto Pan Am Games, Saad Rafi, told the Canadian Press on Wednesday, “this is something that is dealt with through our integrated security unit and if necessary, through the relevant national Olympic committee”.
The U.S. Coast Guard said the “migrant flow” of Cubans to the USA stands at 3,104 so far in the 2015 fiscal year, the Star reported.
Neither the Canadian nor American immigration or border authorities would comment on the Cuban rowers, citing privacy regulations. “CBP officers and agents will verify whether the individual has any criminal or existing USA immigration history”, it said.
Cuban athletes often defect during global tournaments in order to seek better pay and conditions than in their homeland. There’s even a case dating back to 1967, at the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg, when Cuban boxer Jorge Enrico Blanco fled to the U.S. after he picked up a gold medal.
Two players from the Cuban women’s soccer team defected in 2011 after facing off with the Canadian team in Vancouver in an Olympic qualifying match. According to the report, the four athletes had traveled to the United States after quitting the team but maintained contacts through social networks.
There was a freakish turn of events at the Pan American Games in Canada.
In 2012, three Cuban soccer players defected to the US shortly before a World Cup qualifying match in Toronto.