Wilfredo Cancio Isla (Café Fuerte)
HAVANA TIMES — A Cuban court has imposed 5-year prison sentences on three young men implicated in a plot to smuggle renowned baseball players out of the country through a human trafficking operation allegedly run from the United States by Major League star Yaisel Puig.
According to the verdict obtained by CafeFuerte, the Cienfuegos People’s Provincial Court ruled against the accused, 21-year-old Eduardo Antonio Soriano Diz, 34-year-old Dumay Pedroso and 24-year-old Ramon Eusebio Navarro, for their involvement in a frustrated attempt at facilitating the desertion of star pitcher Noelvis Entenza and other Cuban baseball players at the close of 2013.
Soriano Diaz was sentenced to five years in prison for the crime of human trafficking and will serve his conviction in a penitentiary institution of Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior. The other accused were charged with complicity in the crime and their convictions were commuted to 5 years of correctional labor with confinement.
Puig at the Top
The nine-page ruling was handed down following the trial held against the three accused in May of this year. Entenza, one of the key witnesses, insists that Puig and Raul Pacheco Hernandez, both currently residing in the United States, planned the illegal operation.
“The accused who have failed to appear, Yasiel Puig Valdes and Raul Pacheco Hernandez, residing abroad, with the intention of benefiting financially, opted to offer US baseball leagues talented and experienced Cuban players and, in order to carry out their plot, planned to smuggle the said baseball players out of Cuba,” the ruling reads.
Soriano Diaz is the brother of Yunior Despaigne, a former Cuban national team boxer and childhood friend of Puig. Despaigne travelled to Mexico by sea with Puig in June of 2012, and his sworn statement is now key in a civil suit brought against the baseball player by a Miami court.
Puig’s name was mentioned on several occasions during the trial. The prosecution presented testimonies that implicate him in the plot to facilitate the desertion of the Cuban players through arrangements made over the phone, in conjunction with Pacheco Hernandez.
Pacheco Hernandez coordinated Puig’s escape to Mexico and presumably led efforts to rescue the player when he was held by smugglers from the Zetas who claimed they had not been paid the money agreed.
Reports for State Security
The testimonies afforded by Entenza and a nephew of his – who, according to the report, brought the facts to light – proved key to arriving at the verdict. The report acknowledges that the pitcher, who played alongside Puig with Cienfuegos during several seasons of the Cuban Baseball League, reported on the plan to Cuban State Security in a timely fashion (though he later hesitated in his declarations and tried to defend the accused).
Entenza, a member of Cuba’s national baseball team, declared that both Puig and Pacheco Hernandez tried to persuade him to leave the country and offered him the means of speed boat transportation and the money for the journey, as well as the means of immediately securing a Major League contract.
Puig had incited Entenza to leave the country over the phone in October of 2013. At the time, the Dodgers were in their post-season and Puig had become the talk of the team.
According to the accusation, the three men implicated in the crime visited Entenza on more than 15 occasions to try and convince him to accept the offer. Soriano Diaz promised Entenza’s nephew, Francisco Perez Gonzalez, that he could join his uncle on the boat without having to pay any money if he managed to convince him.
Former Cuban national team player Erisbel Arruebarruena, who ended up fleeing the island at the close of 2013, was among the Cienfuegos players mentioned as potential deserters. This year, Arruebarruena signed a 5-year, 25-million-dollar contract with the Dodgers.
Desertions and Suits
At least five other players from Cienfuegos, including Jose Dariel Abreu (now a member of the Chicago White Socks under a 68-million-dollar contract), fled the island or resigned from the Cienfuegos team in the middle of last year.
This past May, Entenza officially resigned from the Cienfuegos Team to play in Havana in the coming Cuban baseball season, scheduled to begin on September 21.
Puig, today a Dodgers star, is currently facing a lawsuit at a Miami federal court. The trial is scheduled for November 16, 2015, though Puig’s legal representatives continue to apply pressures to prevent the proceedings.
The suit, brought by attorney Avelino Gonzalez, is based on the 1992 Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows for lawsuits against foreigners for direct participation in actions that lead to injuries, imprisonment or crimes against humanity.
The suit brought against Puig and his mother Maritza Valdes Gonzalez was presented by Miguel Angel Corbacho Daudinot, today serving a seven-year sentence in Cuba as a result of the testimony offered by the player during a trial for human trafficking. The case follows the same pattern of that involving the three convicted players from Cienfuegos.
“It is time to put an end to the impunity of baseball players who are collaborating with the Cuban government to protect their benefits to the detriment of persons who have unjustly been imprisoned in Cuba,” Gonzalez told CafeFuerte.
Gonzalez has also brought a similar lawsuit against pitcher Aroldis Chapman, claiming he is responsible for the arrest and prison conviction of Danilo Curbelo Garcia and Carlos Rafael Meno Perdomo, victims of his alleged declarations before Cuban authorities.
Chapman’s trial is set to begin on November 17 this year.
Full sentence of the Cienfuegos court