Por Ronal Quiñones
HAVANA TIMES — Cuban sports authorities have just degraded yet another of their baseball greats: former player, coach and manager Antonio Pacheco, known as the “Captain of Captains” till recently. His highly important work with Cuba’s baseball teams for over two decades is now threatened with oblivion simply because he decided to request residency in the United States and seek employment there as a trainer.
It is well worth mentioning that Pacheco had reached all of his goals in Cuba. He is the only player to have played on all teams of his country’s baseball selections in all age categories. He was a star second-baseman and captain of the national team for nearly twenty years. A champion both as a player and manager in the Cuban league, he was the manager for Cuba’s national team, something which, in the words of renowned intellectual Norberto Codina, is harder than being a government minister.
The 50-year-old former baseball player was residing in Canada and working as a trainer at a baseball academy for children for more than a year, thanks to a contract signed by the Cuban government company Cubadeportes. In July, Pachecho decided to move to the United States with his wife, who was working in Canada as a nurse.
Nearly a month following his arrival in the United States, Pacheco declared he wanted to become a Major League coach and that, to do so, he had no choice but to invoke the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA). He refused to address political issues on that occasion.
This stirred up controversy in Cuba, because the CAA was designed to give US residency to those who leave the island illegally and fear persecution in the event of returning, or those who were already being persecuted at the time of leaving, but it is nonetheless used by any Cuban who sets foot on US soil, even when they have no history of political persecution, as in Pacheco’s case.
The new migratory legislation recently approved in Cuba allows for contracts abroad. In the case of sports, however, such contracts must be signed through a State company. In addition, no Cuban is authorized to earn a salary in the United States while they have official Cuban residency. This placed Pacheco before the most difficult crossroads of his life. It also represented a “second chance”, as he himself put it, to attempt to achieve, as coach, what he couldn’t do as player: to shine at the highest echelons of international baseball.
The issue could not be avoided during a recent exchange among baseball aficionados.
Perucho, who works in garbage collection, feels we are still in the dark about many things. “They say he had been trying to get an extension of his residency and contract in Canada and that they denied him that here. I think the problems started following Cuba’s defeat at the Olympic finals in Beijing, because, when he got back to Cuba, he didn’t even want to manage in Santiago de Cuba. They’re never going to tell you the whole truth here, and perhaps he doesn’t want to say too much, because his two kids are still here.
“He had no need to ask for political asylum,” Abraham remarks. “Cubans ask for that when they want to stay in the country definitively. It’s the easiest way to legalize one’s stay there. But it’s a problem for other types of immigrants. I think he simply took advantage of the Cuban Adjustment Act, because he was really in no danger here.”
“Bro,” Sixto says to him, “we didn’t make up the laws, and, when they’re trying to screw you everywhere, we have to take advantage of some. If he wants to have his papers and work like anyone else in the country, that’s the way to go. In a year’s time, he’ll be a permanent resident. After a year, he’s a normal citizen, not a refugee, and he can make his dream of being in the Major Leagues come true. He had done everything there is to do here, he couldn’t climb any higher.”
“We it seems to me”, interjects Abraham, “that when the good life had ended and he began to live like one more of us, he lost his revolutionary fervor and conscience. I see him as an opportunist.”
“Don’t you think what you’re saying is a bit extremist?” Sixto snaps back. “While he was a player, he never sold out to anyone, and they offered him millions. He always maintained an honorable and consistent position. I don’t think life for Pacheco was so difficult in Cuba. He’s now decided to go live and work in the United States. It’s his decision and no one has the right to question it, let alone label him a traitor.”
“Gentlemen,” Carlos interjects, “to be able to work, any Cuban who arrives in the United States has to invoke the Act, especially when they get there illegally and even if they have a temporary residency in Canada, as in this case. They made him a very tempting offer in Miami; to be able to work with people he knew, former Cuban players like him. The thing is that, since he’s the “Captain of Captains”, the issue has major political connotations. But we shouldn’t forget many important players and even high government officials have left the country and they haven’t politicized those cases so much. He fulfilled his duties as a baseball player and Cuban when he represented us abroad. Now, he wants to take on a new challenge, one he couldn’t take on here.”
“That’s true,” Richard says in his support. “How many artists don’t live abroad like kings and aren’t received with a great song and dance when they come back? None is better than Pacheco. The thing is that they don’t need to emigrate. The traitors are those who hide the truth, like TV commentator Modesto Aguero did. After this whole business went down the other day, he started talking about the best second-base players in Cuban baseball history and didn’t mention Pacheco. For him, the list ends with Padilla, who warmed the bench throughout his career. It’s better not to say anything than to omit such a great player, one who is probably the best. Now, they’ll probably want to erase him and his records from history, as though he’d never played in Cuba, as they’ve done with so many others – as though not showing them on TV shows or taking them out of a list of records were enough to erase them from people’s memories.”
“You can’t call someone who always received less than he deserved, who never betrayed us and has now merely decided to spend his old age somewhere else, a traitor. Those who steal from us and cheat us every day, the ones who ride around in their luxury cars and don’t even look at you, the ones whose bellies are now too big for the bodies and have rosy cheeks, are worse. Those who lie and steal millions in the name of the Cuban people are worse. The real traitors are right here, leading us or taking advantage of any privilege they can get,” Erasmo adds.
“I agree on that,” Maximo says, “but political asylum is designed for those who are persecuted in their country of origin and Pacheco’s story has nothing to do with that. Pacheco has a humble background. I hope he doesn’t start making political declarations to fatten his pockets.”
“I agree with you,” says Erasmo, “one can’t label someone who merely chooses to live in a different country a traitor, and, like you, I hope Pacheco maintains his self-respect and isn’t dragged into Miami’s political circus. Many will want to make a buck off him, you’ll see.”