Seven Cuban athletes will request asylum or refuge in Chile after leaving the delegation that participated in the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games, their lawyer Mijail Bonito informed AFP on Tuesday.
"There are seven athletes, six women and one man, who are going to request refuge or asylum and that is something that we are going to determine during the course of today," said the lawyer.
According to the Chilean press, there are six members of the field hockey team and a fence competitor who won a bronze medal in the games that closed on Sunday.
"Their primary intention is to stay in Chile," said the lawyer from the Hurtado y Bonito Abogados law firm, which represented the athletes.
I took on this case "for a personal issue as well, because I was born in Cuba," added Bonito, who was a former immigration policy advisor to the government of former President Sebastián Piñera (conservative).
According to the lawyer, he came into contact with the seven athletes once they left the Cuban delegation that stayed at the Pan American Village in Santiago.
Now "none of them are in Santiago, they are at friends' houses, support groups in three different regions" of the country, Bonito said.
The athletes have a visa to stay in Chile until November 12, but they do not have their passports because they were retained by sports leaders once they entered the country in mid-October.
The serious economic crisis that Cuba is going through has caused a mass exodus in the last two years, mainly of young people.
Even with the losses of elite athletes, Cuba closed in the top-5 of the Pan American medal table behind the United States, Brazil, Mexico and Canada.
The islanders won 30 gold medals, 22 silver and 17 bronze, a harvest slightly smaller than the one collected at the Pan American Games in Lima four years ago.
– Exodus of sporting talent –
The eventual asylum or protection of the seven Cuban athletes took a political tone.
The government of leftist President Gabriel Boric celebrated the fifth place of the "great power" of Cuba in the games, which fueled the rivalry with the right that questions the island's regime in defense of human rights.
«Once the immigration situation of Cuban athletes is regularized, they will have in Las Condes a place from where they can freely practice, work and promote sport. "Welcome those who come to Chile to contribute!" wrote Daniela Peñaloza, mayor of one of the richest municipalities in Santiago and member of the right-wing UDI party, on the social network
According to official figures, from 2022 to date, 187 high-performance Cuban athletes have migrated, among them more than a dozen boxers, including the star Andy Cruz, for many considered the best boxer in the country.
Athletics has been one of the sports hardest hit by the leaks that have affected Cuban sports for several years and that increased with the current economic crisis, the worst in three decades.
Reflecting this exodus is Santiago Ford, born in Cuba and nationalized Chilean at the end of last year, who starred in one of the most emotional moments at the 2023 Pan American Games when he won a gold medal in the decathlon competition.
With a broken voice, he recalled that he entered Chile walking through the desert after having left the island in 2018, traveled by plane to Guyana and arrived by land in the South American country to which he dedicated his victory.
Ford's case was reminiscent of that of his compatriot Andy Cruz, Olympic gold medalist in Tokyo 2020, who was expelled from the island's sports system in 2022 after trying to leave the island by raft.
A few months later he managed to emigrate legally and on July 16 he won an IBF (International Boxing Federation) international lightweight title in a fight in Los Angeles, California.