By Ronal Quinones
HAVANA TIMES — Less than a month ago, there was a commotion in international sports media outlets after a report was published about the five Cuban volleyball players who are locked up in Finland, complaining about their living conditions and the lack of communication with their families.
Let’s remember that the case involves Rolando Cepeda, Abraham Alfonso, Ricardo Calvo and Osmany Uriarte, who have been sentenced to five years in prison for aggravated rape against a Finnish woman on July 2nd last year, and Luis Tomas Sosa, who received three and a half years for the same crime.
After visiting them at their respective jails, separated into groups of two or three, the renowned Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport repeated their complaints.
They were basically protesting because they hadn’t all been placed in the same incarcelation facility, because they were having showers outside and because they no longer had the financial means to communicate with their families.
Government media hastily published some statements from Ramiro Dominguez the legal director at the National Sports Institute (INDER), where he insisted on the fact that Cuba had done everything within its power to help these players.
Dominguez, who has never set foot on Finnish soil, clarified that separating them was the prerogative of the country where they are being held, and that his institution was fighting in any way it can to give them better conditions, but it can’t violate Finland’s laws.
Anyway, talking about this incident with somebody who was there at the time and place these events took place; I was surprised when they told me that too much had been done for them, for them to still be complaining.
This person, linked to the National Volleyball Federation, whose identity I cannot disclose, claims that the organization’s funds have practically been blown out on paying lawyers, its president’s trips (Ariel Saenz) and communication with relatives.
With regard to this last matter, it’s good to point out that Cepada paid out of its own pocket for his relatives to travel to Moscow (where they don’t need a visa) on several occasions to talk to them on Skype, an application which doesn’t work in Cuba.
As a result, the Caribbean team will not take part in the Volleyball World League for the first time in over three decades, and the few resources that remain have been put towards beach volleyball this time.
But that’s not all, my interlocutor gave me more details about the events, such as the testimonies from other players who were put on trial but left to walk free because they didn’t participate in the actual rape. Their colleagues called them up to the room that Alfonso en Tampere was staying in, but they didn’t want to get involved, and this proved a smart decision.
When the crime was reported, the entire Cuban delegation was put under “house arrest” at the hotel, but some of them never even gave a statement as they were believed to not have taken part in the rape, and their rooms were too far away for them to have heard the woman screaming.
However, that wasn’t the thing that most shocked me, the thing that really shocked me was rather the fact that this person indignantly claimed that this wasn’t the first time that something similar had happened. He told me that at the beginning of that same year, in Canada, when the team was taking part in the preliminary round to get through to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, almost the exact same thing happened.
It just so happens that the girl didn’t file an official complaint that time (persuaded by Cuban authorities), but there had ben another gang rape. Given the seriousness of this previous ocurrence, my source tells me how he heard the team’s main trainer, Rodolfo Sanchez, ask his players “to behave themselves”, as they would only be in Finland for just three days.
Clearly he wasn’t asking for much, but when the desire to commit a crime (steal, rape or murder) becomes pathological, there is no way to control your instincts. Maybe that’s what those responsible for staff should have foreseen, and have reinforced psychological treatment for each and every one of them before leaving them to do whatever they want.
What happened is now history; it was even recorded by one of them on his personal cell phone. Then they mutually contradicted each other (they said this was due to difficulties with the language) and this led to them receiving the harshest sentence. Now, they regret what happened, but it’s worth asking ourselves whether their regret is so sincere.
And what would have happened if they hadn’t been denounced? Did they not have time enough to reflect on what happened in Canada beforehand? Why wasn’t the Cuban Federation more forceful with them than in the first place.
While it’s true that they can’t be tied up, but they’ve been too lenient with this generation of volleyball players, maybe out of the fear that they would emigrate, like the majority of their predecessors did. Among other things, they were allowed to smoke in front of their trainers, just to give you an example.
Every time an athlete decides to leave the country, all eyes are turned on the management because they are too firm, but the opposite has been the case in this instance, and they haven’t known what they can and can’t allow a top level athlete do, since they are the image Cuba has in the rest of the world.
For the majority, although the opposite will be said, their sports careers are practically over, but the experience should serve to improve future volleyball players. You can’t put the noose around their neck, but you can’t pass off as soft either.