Sport in Cuba: The Diamond in the Rough
by Paula J. Pettavino and Geraldine Pye
The Politics of Sport in Cuba: Foundations
After the 1987 Pan-American Games in Indianapolis, a Cuban newspaper headline read, "CUBA: 7.5 Medals per Million Inhabitants. USA: 0.70" Despite a limited pool of talent and a notorious weakness in certain sports, Cuba has proved itself a sporting powerhouse since the end of the nineteenth century. An island with a population smaller than many U.S. cities has achieved an astounding measure of athletic success.
Before the revolution, such wild successs was limited to selected sports such as baseball and boxing. In 1959, however, Fidel Castro pulled the stops on Cuban sports fanaticism, and he has since presided over unprecedented growth and mastery of along list of international sports. In baseball, for example, Cuba has amassed a record of 71-1 in international tournaments. Cuba also won gold medals in the last two Pan-American Games, in the 1988 and 1990 world championships, and in the 1987, 1989, and 1991 Inter-continental Cup Games. Most significant, perhaps, Cuba won the First Olympic gold medal ever awarded for baseball, at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. The Cuban team was called "the other Dream Team."
When it came time for the 1991 Pan-American Games held in Havana, Cuba had not been tested in other sports for a decade, because they boycotted the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. Because of the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Cuba had not faced U.S. Olympic athletes since 1976, when Alberto Juantorena had won both the 400-and 800-meter races. In 1991, the United States won the most medals (352 to Cuba's 265), but Cuba took home the most gold (140 to the United States' 130) and did so in the sports that really matter: basketball, baseball, boxing, and track and field. This was the first time the United States had been beaten in the tally of gold medals since 1951, when the Pan-American Games began. In silver medals, the United States recovered some national pride (winning 125 to Cuba's 62), as well as in bronze (97 to Cuba's 63). In the famous national pastime of both Cuba and the United States, sixty thousand Cubans watched their undefeated national team beat the Ayanquis, 3-2. Cuba also won 11 of the 12 gold medals in boxing and amassed 29 of the 30 gold medals in weightlifting.
In 1992 came the Summer Olympics in Barcelona. Cuba placed fifth in the tally of gold medals, with a total of fourteen: seven in boxing, one in women's volleyball, one in women's discus, one in men's high jump, one in baseball, two in wrestling, and one in women's judo. In addition, Cuba won six silver and eleven bronze medals.
Yet, despite this glowing success, the Cuban sports system is in jeopardy, and one need look no further for a reason than those same Pan-American Games held in Havana. There is a striking contrast between the relative poverty of ordinary Cubans with their ration books and the relative plenty of the athletes. Cuba has overwhelming economic problems, resulting from the near-cessation of aid from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, but the Cuban government still spent an estimated $24 million (in hard currency) and 100 million pesos ($132 million) to build athletic and residential facilities for the Pan-American Games. The average Cuban has to wait in line for soap, bread, chicken, coffee, and even sugar, and there was understandable resentment throughout the island that seventeen thousand visitors were served all-you-can-eat buffets. Castro was "doing the wave," while ordinary Cubans were lining up for essentials. Although the demonstrations against Castro predicted by some people did not materialize, one U.S. official pointed out that Fidel may still be generally popular, but "you can't eat charisma." One graduate of the University of Havana cited by Spencer Reiss compared Cuba and the Games to the Roman Empire. "Remember the end of the Roman Empire-bread and circuses? That's the Panamericanos. Only soon even the pan [bread] will be gone."
According to Gustavo Rolle, an official of the Cuban Institute for Sports, Education, and Recreation, there is no resentment:
The Olympics are important to our people, especially in these difficult economic times. So our people clearly understand that our athletes need more food than the average person because their energy consumption is very high. They understand that our athletes have to consume what they need.
Yet sports writers covering the Pan-American Games, such as Tom Knott of the Washington Times, spoke of the "jarring contrasts: the shiny facilities and the decay; the official pomp and circumstance against the unofficial whispers of discontent. I was jarred by the food lines and grim faces, jarred by the omnipresent police and military. He also wondered if Cuban boxer Teófilo Stevenson, who said 'We are all equals in Cuban society,' had to wait in bread lines or ride on a bicycle."
The athletes seem to want for nothing. They certainly have all the food they can eat and, instead of the now-typical Cuban bicycle (imported from China), they have cars, drivers, and houses. According to Jose Fuentes, manager of the Cuban National baseball team, "Our government has a general assistance [policy] for all people who are outstanding. The government tries to give better living conditions to the most outstanding people. I think our resources are distributed in a just way. I think the people who do the greatest effort should be the prized ones."
Has the situation in Cuba deteriorated to such a level, in this "Special Period in Peace Time," that resources from other areas may be used to bail out the economy? The sports system has held a special place of honor in Cuban society since 1959, and this attention has paid off in both domestic and foreign policy. Now it may pay off in the more literal sense. Sport in Cuba now pays for itself. According to Cuban officials, their $120-million-a-year sports and Physical education program is self-financed: from prize money won in international competitions, from the export of sports equipment, and from the contracting of Cuban coaches to rival Olympic programs. Further, a new policy permits Cuban athletes, coaches, and sports officials to charge some foreign TV crews for interviews.
In addition, other countries have helped Cuban sports financially. The Italian government financed a large part of the expenses for the Cuban baseball team to go to Barcelona. Host countries pay the way for Cuban athletes to compete. Sport may turn out to be a moneymaker as well as an imagemaker. Clearly, for the last three decades, sport has been used by Fidel Castro to the utmost Cuban advantage. There is little evidence that he will break this record.
Cuba is an island country of 44,128 square miles and approximately eleven million people. It seems almost ludicrous to speak of such a small nation-especially one located so much in the shadow of the United States-as conducting a global foreign policy. Yet, Cuba does indeed have a "big country's foreign policy." In fact, since 1959, Cuba has conducted itself as a leading player in the international arena, even without the necessary domestic resources.
Cuban foreign policy as a whole has served clear defensive interests since 1959. These objectives, though specific to the Cuban situation, are not too dissimilar to the initial foreign policy objectives of any new regime. Castro's first priority has been, and continues to be, to insure and enhance his political base within Cuba. His second concern is to assure the security of the regime from hostile outside powers, the United States in particular.
With a realistic eye toward Cuba's economic limitations, Castro has had to seek external economic assistance to insure the continued development of his country, if not its very survival. He also had to solidify and maintain support for his revolution within his own country. To accomplish these goals, it was essential to portray Cuba in the best possible light. Castro's solution to the problem has been the use of unconventional forms of diplomacy, which he wields with phenomenal success.
His unconventional diplomacy encompasses a wide range of methods of disseminating propaganda, both within Cuba and externally. Often denied use of the more conventional modes of political, military, and economic diplomacy, Cuba has turned instead to other means, such as tourism, cultural activities, health systems, the astute use of the media, sports, and the physical culture system. Clearly, the Cuban sports system provides a vivid example of Cuba's most successful diplomatic tools.
The development and use of Cubans' vast athletic talent as a form of foreign policy has served Castro well in many ways. First, Cuba was at least partially able to distance itself from the Soviet Union and to develop an independent, albeit limited, foreign policy. Second, Castro wisely chose forms of unconventional diplomacy (such as sports) that were less likely to place him in direct conflict with his benefactor. Third, since 1961 Castro has taken the role of a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, and Cuba's sporting successes have reinforced this image. Castro's international successes in unconventional forms of foreign policy have allowed him to increase his maneuvering power with Moscow, to come to terms with the United States, and to project Cuba as a leading model for the developing world.
The choice of sports as a method of diplomacy conveniently fits into Cuba's strong tradition of forceful nationalism and serves domestic purposes as well. Castro, for whom Cuba has never been quite big enough, has been the driving force behind Cuba's attempt at a global foreign policy. Adopting the ideology of socialism has served to enhance his chosen methods of building Cuba's domestic and worldwide image and realizing his own ambitions.
SPORT AS A POLITICAL TOOL IN CUBA AND THE USSR
There is no aspect of Cuban life that more clearly epitomizes the Cuban leadership's emphasis on image-building and egalitarianism than the system of physical culture and competitive athletics. The Cuban record in international athletics is among the most recognized successes of the revolution. The revolutionary government knew from its inception that such a powerful image could serve the regime well. Developed countries are almost forced to admire Cuban athletic prowess. Developing countries are hopeful that emulation of the Cuban system will give them similar results.
Cuba's surge of athletic strength is a consequence of its conversion to socialism. With athletic superiority as a political goal, the Cuban government has imitated the Soviet system of physical culture, modifying it where necessary and expedient. The former Soviet Union discovered the value of sport as a political tool, over time, and formulated sports policy as a consequence of initial successes. Cuba immediately incorporated this tool into its system and ideology after seeing the positive effect of sport in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union began with victories, which led to policy; Cuba laid down policy, which led to victories.
Cuba approaches the type of system that the Soviet Union was supposed to have had. The differences are of degree rather than substance. The Cuban system is modeled on the Soviet system, emphasizing central control in service to the goals of mass participation and the development of champions. However, the results of the two systems are different. Soviet athletes appeared cold and calculating, machinelike, ruthless. The Cubans are warmer, more human, less regimented. Cuban athletes emerge as more well-rounded individuals than their Soviet counterparts, ironically, closer to the ideal Anew communist man.
The Soviet system was older and more established, its policies characterized by science, routine, and no-nonsense regimentation. It produced athletes and personnel who were followers, rewarded for their discipline, obedience, and performance. The Cuban sports system is still emerging, characterized by novelty, creativity, and experimentation. Those involved in sports have a greater degree of efficacy and freedom. They are seen as and see themselves as innovators, discoverers, leaders in a true sense. They work in a system that is still developing, although in recent times there are signs of increased bureaucratization and a greater emphasis on scientific methods.
Sport is even more important for Cuba than for the Soviet Union. At a similar stage of development on economic and military levels, the positive image provided by the Soviet Union's sporting victories was merely a boost; it was already secure in its position as a world power. On the other hand, for Cuba, its positive impact in the international sporting world is a major force whereby Cuba can prove itself of world caliber.
Overall, Cuba provides the world with a clear example of how a communist system can help a developing country move from backwardness to excellence in a single area. The phenomenal success of the sports system is inspirational to all sides of the ideological spectrum. Despite the fact that sports funding now comes from athletes' earnings and other sources,12 the cost of developing the sports program has been high. Sacrifices have had to be made in other areas of society. For other nations, especially those with different political systems, such sacrifices would have been impossible. But the Cuban government has received what it paid for.
For politicians, the virtue of sport is readily understandable. Sport has tremendous exposure worldwide and, at first glance, is apolitical. It is precisely sport's surface innocence that renders it so well suited to use as a political tool. However, the political motivation behind the system of physical culture in Cuba does not dull Cuba's justified pride in the effectiveness of that system.
ECONOMIC HARDSHIP AND POLITICAL ISOLATION
In an earlier time, Cuba was isolated economically and politically because of its belief in socialism. Sport was one area that allowed this circle of isolation to be broken. Now, in this era of flight from communism in Nicaragua, in Eastern Europe, and in the Soviet Union itself, Cuba stands alone as the bulwark of Marxism-Leninism. As economic aid from the former Soviet Union and other allies dries up, Cuba needs to break the circle of isolation that has arisen anew. Sport may once again be the perfect tool for the job.
However, Cuba is suffering an era of severe austerity. Cars and trucks are being replaced by bicycles and oxen and the sports system may be one area from which Cuba could cut excess. In fact, the Cubans are being forced to do just that; the austerity is affecting even their national obsession. As the island moves to further conserve electricity, for example, night baseball games have been cancelled. Sports coverage in the newspapers has been reduced significantly because of the shortage of newsprint. The main offices of the National Institute for Sports, Education, and Recreation (INDER) have had to move all the computers into one room to save air-conditioning costs. The recent shortage of gasoline caused an annual bicycle race around the island to be canceled. There was not enough fuel to transport the racers, staff, and their equipment during the event. The race will be replaced by an indoor competition.
Yet these examples illustrate the Cuban ability to turn adversity into advantage, a talent called resolviendo that has been finely honed for thirty years since the abortive Playa de Girón (Bay of Pigs) invasion and the start of the U.S. embargo. Castro has elevated sacrifice almost to a virtue. Cuban foul balls, for example, are never kept by the fan who catches them, but rather returned to the field with a virtuous flourish. Actually, baseball games have not been completely canceled but are now held during daylight hours and generally just on weekends. The bicycle race was not discontinued but rather was converted into an event that used less of a precious resource. Neither of these changes constitutes great sacrifice. Sporting events play a tremendous role in sustaining the Cuban morale, especially in a time of austerity. So their complete cancellation would have far-reaching effects.
Although the system of sports in Cuba is distinctively Cuban (as will be seen below), its origins can be found in the system of physical culture that was prevalent in other socialist countries. Before we turn exclusively to Cuba, it is instructive to look at the basis for the socialist approach to sports.
THE THEORETICAL BASIS OF THE SOCIALIST APPROACH TO SPORT
The Cuban system of sports is clearly based on those of the Soviet Union and the formerly socialist countries of Eastern Europe. Unlike in the Soviet Union, however, the Cuban revolutionary leaders did not inherit a highly centralized or a very well-organized sports system. The new organization had to be built basically from the ground up, following and modifying the Soviet example.
The socialist countries adhered to a common philosophy of education and sport that had its roots in the philosophies of Marx and Lenin. Cuba also draws on the ideas of José Martí.16 In Marxist-Leninist theory, sport is not merely an activity for individuals but, rather, a social phenomenon. Because it is regarded as a part of the social superstructure, sport is inevitably tied to the relations of production, or the socioeconomic structure. Then the nature of sport in a society depends upon its class relationships:
In good Marxist logic, everything is interrelated. In Marxist conceptualizing, since the human organism develops and changes under the influence of external conditions including the social environment, subjection to physical exercise not only develops that part of the body to which it is directed, but also has an effect on the body as a whole-on the personality. A strong bond exists, then, between social and individual development and between the physical and mental development of the individual. The socialist societies seek to shape this development.
Marx and Lenin both shunned the separation of the body from the mind. The combination of a healthy body and a healthy mind produced a completely formed person, capable of contributing a tremendous amount to society. Marx himself felt that the educational combination of "productive labor" with instruction and gymnastics would not only improve "the efficiency of production" but was also the only way to produce fully developed human beings. For Marx, recreation under communism would be a fusion of work-like activities with play.
The socialist view of sport as one of a number of interdependent aspects of society is a major reason for its high place on the list of priorities. The combining of sport and physical culture, for example, is important. The Soviet central committee of the All Union Communist party decreed on 13 July 1925 that:
Physical culture must be considered not only from the standpoint of physical education and health and as an aspect of the cultural, economic and military training of youth (the sport of rifle marksmanship and others), but also as one of the methods of educating the masses (in as much as physical culture develops willpower and builds up endurance, teamwork, resourcefulness and other valuable qualities), and in addition, as a means of rallying the broad masses of workers and peasants around the various Party, soviet, and trade union organizations, through which the masses of workers and peasants are to be drawn into social and political activity.
Yet physical culture for the socialist countries has almost a mystical, futuristic quality about it. The term defies definition but clearly goes beyond the realm of mere sports: "Sport belongs to the vision of the world we want to create."
Military preparedness and labor productivity are the two most important goals of physical culture and sport. The advent of modern industry required more than physical fitness; it required a healthy mind and a healthy attitude. Strenuous exercise should instill "in young people a love of labor." Such preparation enables the socialist athlete "to be an active builder of communism. Athletes are obliged to raise the productivity of labor by all means at their disposal, to perform exemplary work at their jobs, and at the same time to help their friends achieve victories of production." Labor productivity is inextricably bound to military preparedness in the Soviet mass physical fitness program, Gotovk trudui oborone or GTO (Ready for labor and defense) and its Cuban counterpart, Listos Para Vencer or LPV (Ready to win).
At the heart of the philosophy is the ability of physical culture to build strong character. The educational scheme aims to construct a new communist society by creating a new type of socially minded citizen, namely, the Anew communist man.24 He is disciplined, highly motivated, and capable of subordinating his personal requirements to those of the Communist party. Education is the method by which communists can transform society: "Physical culture has become an inseparable part of communist education, an important means of educating the Soviet people for work and the protection of their home-country."
We speak of a model of sport but we have in mind a model of human personality, a model of society. Therefore, when we try to perceive the emerging outlines of this new model and state what factors are contributing to its creation and implementation, we want, of course, to know what type of man will act under that model and how the latter will affect his personality . . . . We strongly believe that under these new conditions, Man will be able more fully to satisfy his human needs more efficiently, to develop his mental and physical skills. This is the meaning behind all efforts to foresee the future. We strive to penetrate it in order to rationally shape it.
Cuba also uses the term physical culture for its program of sports and recreation. According to Raudol Ruíz,
This name is important conceptually because it is the final stage of our development. It will be how we create the habits and customs, how we will make sports a part of life for all citizens, how sports will form a part of the culture of the people. We still cannot say we have physical culture, but we can say that we are moving very slowly toward that goal.
Physical culture then, like communism, is an ever-present goal. In the socialist countries, the Anew man is the center of the development of society. Physical culture plays a large role in his formation, giving him the mental and physical conditions for increasing productivity and the capability of defending his country.
SPORTS FOR ONE OR FOR ALL?
Within socialist sport, there are two driving, and often competing goals. One is the concept of mass participation in sports: massovost in Russian and masividad or participación masíva in Spanish. The other is mastery of a sport: masterstvo in Russian. To critics of either system, these goals are mutually exclusive. To the Cubans, they complement each other.
The question is whether or not the ideal of sport for all is contradicted by the existence of an ability-based elite group of athletes. Certainly, Cuban athletes receive special privileges, such as training, extra food, and better housing (although there are indications that some of these have been reduced).30 The Cubans argue that the provision of incentives for raising standards during socialism may be necessary in order to build a material and cultural base for communism. In receiving some material benefits, the elite group of athletes may, however, operate in opposition to the development of egalitarian attitudes, despite the greater participation in sports inspired by their international successes.
These athletes cannot function as a class in the Marxist sense, nor can they automatically pass on their privileges to their children. The benefits are necessary for their success in international sports. Their successes, in turn, create prestige for Cuba both inside and outside the country. In addition to encouraging the participation of others in sports, this prestige contributes to the encouragement of Cuban nationalism so crucial to the Cuban identity and to Castro's ambition. Sports victories bring home the message of Cuban independence and progress, as well as send it abroad, thus inspiring support for the revolution.
To the Cubans, both goals mutually support each other in a continual cycle of interdependence. The road from mass participation leads to international competition. Success abroad then inspires more Cubans at home to participate.
The first objective of the Cuban sports system is to make sports available to everyone and to actively promote its development, as written in the Constitution. The second objective is to seek champions. According to Manuel González former director of the Cuban Olympic Committee, "When we look at our children, we are searching for diamonds. Every child and every adult has a right to participate in athletics. And every diamond has a right to be discovered and polished." Cuba's athletic "diamonds" are found only through masividad, or mass participation in sports. However, Castro has warned that "It is very important that we do not be mistaken, that in the search for champions we do not neglect the practice of sports."
Cuban athletes are expected to be revolutionaries, and those who are not involved in mass organizations or political bodies may be excluded from sports schools. Cuba's outstanding athletes are supposed to be examples for others to emulate. They are expected not only to be a vanguard for the development of full human potential in physical culture, but also to be models of the "new man." Consequently, athletes contribute to building socialism.
The international successes of Cuba's top athletes constitute an extremely forceful propaganda weapon. Sport's universal popularity and sheer visibility make it extremely effective:
Sporting success is seen by some as a measure of national vitality and prestige.... By its nature, sport is suited to the task; it excites nationalist instincts and encourages group identification; it is superficially apolitical and readily understandable; and, through modern means of communication, sorting spectacles can be transmitted throughout the worlds.
By means of this powerful propaganda, socialist countries have been able to utilize sport to (1) weaken the influence of non-communists upon their citizens and (2) weaken the international prestige of the West by challenging its position as sports leader. Through competition in sports, the other peoples of the world could observe the differences between the socialist and capitalist systems and compare them. The hope, of course, was that such a comparison would show the superiority of communism:
The Soviet Union has won valuable footholds of influence which have been exploited in every possible way to create a positive image of the Soviet Union and to influence foreigners to seek advantages in the Soviet system.... Every Soviet sport triumph is pictured as yet another proof of the superiority of the Soviet system over the decadence of the West.
The goals of Soviet foreign policy have been consistent: (1) commitment to the Marxist-Leninist goal of a worldwide communist social order, and (2) serving the national interests of the Soviet Union. Periods of Soviet weakness-in particular, the advent of nuclear weapons-brought the expedient policy of peaceful coexistence. New methods of continuing the struggle had to be found. Athletic competition is merely one of the methods by which "war without warfare" is waged. Cuba, on the other hand, has never been powerful enough militarily to defeat its primary rival, the United States. Yet in sports, it found a way to do just that.
FOUNDATIONS OF CUBAN SPORTS
Organizing the Sports System
Despite the obvious influences of the other socialist countries on Cuban sports and physical culture, the Cubans have developed a system that, in both practice and results, is all their own. The theoretical base of Cuban sport is simple; it is capitalist versus socialist. Raúl Castro neatly summed up the Cuban viewpoint:
Sport, like everything, is a reflection, simply, of a country's social system. Sport under socialism is neither restricted nor commercialized. It is mass sport with the participation of the people, all of the people, of all those who want to participate voluntarily. It is a means.
Statements like this pay obvious lip service to the Soviet Union and other socialist standard bearers. The Cubans freely followed the socialist model in developing their own system of sports, with a sincere admiration for the successful programs they saw in East Germany, the Soviet Union, and other communist countries. It is doubtful, however, that the sports system was so important that all financial aid from the socialist bloc would have been withheld if the Cubans had refused to follow the socialist path. Yet, in following the Soviet example, the Cuban leaders did not blindly take the program found in other countries and superimpose it on their own. Rather, they began with egalitarian goals that later meshed into consistent socialist goals. According to Raudol Ruiz,
Under capitalism, sport, like almost everything, was an end, and the end was profit. Sport under a socialist regime is a means, before everything else, for the self-improvement of the citizen, for the betterment of his health, constituting also, a type of prophylactic measure. At the same time, it creates the conditions and makes the citizens capable even to the point of increasing production, defending the country, and [providing] a healthy means of recreation.
INDER's principal task is to make it possible for the people to engage in physical activity as part of their education, and for their health and recreation. The primary goal of INDER continues to be mass participation in sports, to ensure that every day more men and women, children, young people, and students practice sports, physical education, gymnastics, walking, excursions, bicycling; to ensure that they are in contact with nature, enjoy nature and take maximum advantage of our climate.
Fidel Castro concurred when he said that sport
teaches them how to exert themselves, it teaches them how to discipline themselves, it teaches them to work collectively, because precisely the sports they practice in general are team sports, from which they learn to work collectively . . . . Sport [is] a marvelous activity that not only helps the physical health, not only helps to form the character, but it also makes them enthusiastic and it makes them happy.
It is in the paths chosen to reach these goals that the Cubans have shown creativity and independence. The Soviet Union began with victories in sports, which led to policy; Cuba had the luxury of choosing from policies that had already been tested and proven successful. At the same time, the Cubans also exercised their right to reject the policies that had failed, or more importantly, those which produced results that were not consistent with Cuban aspirations.
Both the Cubans and the Russians had to begin building their sports systems out of the chaos of revolution. More than anything, the Cubans wanted a complete break from the past. Shortly after the revolution, Rafael Cambo Arcos wrote that,
The previous sports organization had to be destroyed, the ruling anarchy eliminated, the existing flaws and vices eradicated. On top of this ruin, it was necessary to construct a new organization, one without the smallest link to the past, a completely new system, a product of the radical change in political philosophy which, at this time, leads the destiny of Cuba.
Sports Before the Revolution
This emphasis on sports is not a new phenomenon in Cuba. Although it was hardly the egalitarian system that exists today, the sporting tradition in Cuba has a long pre-revolutionary history. Aside from the traditional cockfighting and other gambling "sports," boxing, track, and baseball (a Cuban obsession) were popular in Cuba decades before Fidel Castro allegedly tried out for the Washington Senators.
Baseball has long been the premier sport of the island, even before the American presence there. The Siboney Indians played a game called batos that used a bat and ball. The first Cuban baseball stadium was inaugurated in Matanzas in 1874, and by the 1930s, many Cuban baseball players (and boxers) earned a fair wage in the professional realm, with some actually making it big in the lucrative U.S. sports scene.
For the lower classes, baseball and boxing constituted a possible ticket out of poverty as well as steady, reliable entertainment. Yet many pre-revolutionary Cuban athletes were "people born into comfort, never touched by misery or want." Cuba's Ramón Fonst won a gold medal in the individual epee event in fencing in the Paris Olympics of 1900. Four years later, he won three individual gold medals and one team gold in the St. Louis Olympics. (For the Cubans, however, this victory was tainted by Fonst's long-time residency in France.) Another Cuban with leisure time, Jose Radl Capablanca, held the title of World Champion in chess in 1921 and 1927.
Yet, there was still another Cuban who distinguished himself in St. Louis. Félix Carvajal, known as Andarin, was a postman by trade who hitchhiked to St. Louis to run the marathon. Exhausted by his journey and a bout with some green apples, he won only fourth in the event, having received no support from the Cuban government for his efforts. Like most lower-class pre-revolutionary Cuban athletes, Carvajal was unknown until his death in 1948. All of his recognition has come posthumously and after the revolution.
Sport for the Cuban population at large, including Andarín and others of his class, was almost nonexistent. Exclusive clubs denied entry to most Cubans, on racial or economic grounds. U.S. interests dominated some Cuban sports, especially those conducive to gambling, such as boxing. Previous Cuban governments showed little interest in developing the sports system. After the adoption of Marxism-Leninism, the revolutionary government claimed that pre-1959 Cuban athletes were exploited and treated as merchandise. To the revolutionaries, Cuba had few international successes in sports because of the small base of participation in athletics and the lack of public resources available.
Sports After the Revolution
Only after the revolution did Cuba begin to achieve success in sports. Within fifteen years of the revolution, Cuba had changed from a country that had won only a handful of medals to one of the top ten medal-winning nations in the Olympic Games. Western critics claim that this success is due to the technical support that Cuba has received from the socialist bloc, as well as their own specialized training for athletes. These factors are certainly important, but increased participation is also a major force behind the rapid rise in Cuba's success.
At the beginning of the revolutionary transformation, even before the conversion to Marxism-Leninism, Cuban leaders worked to remove legal and socioeconomic barriers to participation in physical culture. They sought a radical change in the social structure of Cuba and moved to break down not only gender and racial barriers but class barriers too, with the aim of extending egalitarianism in all areas, not just in the realm of physical culture. Emphasis was placed on increasing participation in sports and on improving access to physical culture, for health and recreational purposes, and as part of the general process of redistribution and democratization that characterized the early years of the revolutionary process.
In 1961, the year of Castro's conversion to Marxism-Leninism, the revolutionary government institutionalized the Cuban system of sports and physical culture. The administration of sports was transferred to a government body, INDER, which had centralized control for physical culture throughout the island.
The two most important factors for the promotion of egalitarianism in physical culture were the construction of new facilities and the production and distribution of sports equipment. In January 1959, there were just thirteen state-owned sports areas. Private clubs and centers were nationalized, and a program was launched to build new facilities. By 1965, Cuba had established a domestic sports industry to manufacture its own athletic equipment. By 1988, there were more than 9,600 facilities across the island.
The Cuban government also introduced a wide variety of programs aimed at encouraging people to participate in sports. In the 1960s, the emphasis was upon developing programs for young Cubans and in regions other than Havana. In the 1970s, as these programs continued, the Cubans directed their attention to new exercise programs for adults and sports competitions in work centers. In the 1980s, activities for older Cubans received increased emphasis. Since 1959, the vast majority of Cubans participate in sports at some stage in their lives, especially while attending educational institutions. Regular participants number approximately 1.5 million or almost a fifth of the population.
Cuba has in large part reached its goals of mass participation in and the democratization of sports. In the process, Cubans have achieved unprecedented success in international sports competitions. These successes have created the national and international prestige that is so important for Cuban nationalism and in promoting a sense of national unity and pride. In Cuba, this nationalism enhances an already-distinctive Cuban culture and, further, helps to eliminate remaining vestiges of U.S. influence. International success in sports also provides an example to other less-developed countries of the possibilities and achievements of socialism.
Problems do exist, however. Participation in sports is abandoned by many Cubans when they leave school. Although more extensive than in 1959, women's participation-especially in organized sports-is far below that of men. Facilities and coaching are sometimes of lower standards than desired, reflecting at times bureaucratic inefficiencies. There is also the possibility for tension in balancing bureaucratic and funding emphasis between mass programs and elite sports. In the mid-1980s, these and other concerns about overemphasis on top-performance athletes were raised by Cuban sports officials.
Almost all Cubans with ability may aspire to athletic success and receive specialized training in sports schools.46 Outstanding athletes do not receive salaries above the general wage scales, but they do receive other advantages that may be more highly prized than money in a socialist country with limited goods and devalued currency. And, as in other countries, status from athletic achievement may help an athlete in elections for political positions.
The shifts between emphasizing egalitarianism and emphasizing performance in physical culture reflect many factors, including the attempt to balance democratic ideals with the requirements and benefits of international success. The shifting balance is also linked to variations in the overall revolutionary policy, shifting in response to immediate concerns, which have included redistribution efforts when expanding participation was stressed in the early 1960s; economic problems when there were cuts in sports spending during the late 1960s and late 1970s; security concerns when Cuba joined the Sports Committee of Friendly Armies in 1968 and 1969 and founded military sports clubs in the 1980s; and to the decentralization and institutionalization in the mid-1970s. Policy shifts also arise because decision making is limited mostly to an elite group of administrators and political authorities. Yet, despite these problems, there is an ongoing and determined effort to extend access to physical culture and to prevent the development of a closed elite.
The encouragement of outstanding athletes to behave as communist examples to others means that, in addition to their part in encouraging popular participation, athletes have a role in the socialization of all Cubans to combat old attitudes that may hinder the development of socialism in Cuba. Physical culture, then, is part of social change as well as an agent for social change.
The Limits to Theory
The limits on using sports as an avenue for social control are evident in the antigovernment physical culture organizations that existed before 1959, and in the defection of many Cubans, including some athletes, since 1959. There is no guarantee that participants will adopt the ideology of the revolution. Physical culture is but one of numerous vehicles through which the ideas of the state are promoted. However, the beauty of sport is that even dissidents can participate, without agreeing to ideological compromise, and possibly gain something in the process.
There are also limits on the extension of popular programs in physical culture. Cuba's leaders (and perhaps the population in general) have emphasized international sports victories. The presence of outstanding athletes may, however, inspire others to take up sports. The victories bring prestige to Cuba and demonstrate Cuba's achievements under a socialist system, to both friends and enemies. These victories are claimed as evidence of the benefits of socialism, raising the standard of living and creating a mass base of participation.
There are other more pressing limits as well, however. Achieving Cuban objectives in sports has been limited by the importance of developing the material base in Cuba, which is vital to ensure continuation of the revolution. This necessity is intensified by the limits of Cuban resources, the considerable reliance on imports, and the underdeveloped condition of the economy. With the dissolution of the communist bloc, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the continued U.S. economic embargo, Cuba has lost its lifeline to the necessary resources to meet even basic human needs, such as food, clothing, and shelter, much less sports equipment. Even Fidel, in an act of socialist anthropomorphic license, has taken to calling the now-ubiquitous bicycles, valuable Adaughters of the special period.
The Cuban sports system contains two possibilities that may help ease the situation. First, the system has continued to receive funding, although relatively modest, throughout the period of the revolution. If needed, these resources, including athletes' and coaches' earnings now used to fund sports, can be redirected to more needy areas. Second, participation in sports and physical culture provides, at little cost, one area in which Cubans might temporarily forget their hardships and perhaps make themselves feel a little better.
In order to fully appreciate the accomplishments of the Castro government in the sports arena, it is necessary to look at the system that existed in Cuba before the revolution. In the next chapter, we will look in some detail at Cuban sport before 1959.
Cuba's Success: Top Performance Sports
A close look at the Cuban system of popular participation in sports makes it clear that quality does indeed spring from the masses. The Cubans have dual goals for their system of sports and physical culture: for sport to become a daily part of the life of every Cuban, young and old; and for international champions to emerge from this wellspring of mass sport. At first, perhaps, these two objectives appear mutually exclusive. Yet as long as the aim of sport for the masses is never abandoned once top-level talent is found, the two are highly compatible, and surely, the Cubans have achieved this compatibility.
The Cubans claim that "the first objective is to promote the development of sports, and the second objective is to seek champions." Yet when one sees the resources, both financial and otherwise, that go into the search for and polishing of these "diamonds," the process of recruitment and training hardly seems to have been accorded second-place status. In the Cuban system, as soon as a child shows a particular talent, he is given every opportunity to develop it. "The more people practicing [sport], the more people from which to choose."
Yet Cuba's status as a world sports power could not be solely attributed to an increase in numbers. A nation could, theoretically, increase popular participation in noncompetitive physical activities and decide either not to take part in or not to seek high standards in international sports while still maintaining competitive sports on a mass scale. However, Cuba chose neither of these options. Instead, success in international competition is highly regarded, although not to the exclusion of popular participation. Medals are viewed as evidence of Cuba's progress, and they bring prestige to this small nation.
A Cuban athlete with talent has access to special training, special facilities, and possibly a sports school, which may not be available to a less talented athlete. A high-performance athlete gains not only prestige, but also the concrete benefits of a more balanced diet, special medical attention, and the resources of specialized sports science.
The decision to develop champions created a potential contradiction between mass participation and the privileged "superathletes:" Cuba has had to deal with issues including the use of drugs by top athletes, and the fixing of results. The domestic notoriety gained by some athletes has won them election to the National Assembly and high positions within the Cuban Communist party (PCC). There is, however, no reason for athletes to be excluded from these positions; they may, in fact, have useful knowledge to contribute, not just regarding physical culture but in other areas too, especially as they have the broadening experience of international travel.
THE SPORTS SCHOOLS
Cuba has developed an elaborate system for locating and selecting talented youngsters. By the 1980s, young athletes could enter a special sports school at the early primary level and continue right through to tertiary level, with full access to specialized training and facilities. This attention plays an important part in the improved performances of Cuban athletes in world competition. According to Cuban sports official Raudol Ruiz:
The advocates of capitalism allege that the socialist countries triumph because they give their athletes intensive training and special living quarters. It is true that in Cuba, for example, a national pre-selection is held in each sport, according to -a determined cycle, but no special training can bear fruit if there has not first been wide participation in sports. From the millions of boys and girls who play sports in Cuba come the Juantorenas, the Stevensons, the Rodriguezes.
The sports schools serve the important purpose of intensively training talented young athletes. Yet, at the same time, they are not inconsistent with the other major objective of Cuban sports, mass participation. To the Cubans, they encourage it. According to Fidel:
Now it is important that the selection of students for this type of school be perfected. It must not be as a result of testing in 400 or 500 schools or between 40,000 or 50,000 students in a province. The test must be given in all the schools and to all students in a province. It is not the same thing to make selections from 40,000 students and to make them from 320,000. It is necessary to organize the testing of all students so that we do not lose a single one with ability, so that we do not lose a single champion.
In fact, to the Cubans, the very existence of champions encourages mass participation in sports, by virtue of its inspirational quality. As Castro has said:
These two objectives complement each other because the existence of these schools encourages the practice of sports. At the same time, these schools, with their selection of and the quality of their students, develop champions and we need champions because champions become symbols for the youth and children. Champions represent the extent of the social, educational, and cultural development of our revolution and our people. Champions become a measure of the character, will, and dignity of our people. And champions generate joy, honor, glory, and prestige for the country. We do not deny this. Therefore, this movement can perfectly help us attain both objectives. It is very important that we do not be mistaken, that in the search for champions we do not neglect the practice of sports.
Scholarships for sports schools began with the establishment of the Escuelas de Iniciacion Deportiva Escolares (Schools for the initiation of scholastic sports), the EIDEs. By the 1980s, there were no less than nine types of sports schools, as well as a large number of academies specializing in individual sports or in groups of a few related sports. The sports school system started in the preEIDEs at lower primary level and existed at all levels up to the tertiary level, at the Instituto Superior de Cultura Fisica (Institute for ~-physical culture), or ISCF. A student could enter at any level, not necessarily having to pass through all levels. The possible progression of students through this network of sports institutions is shown in figure 1.
Athletes could be chosen for the national selection and the national team at any stage in the sports school system. The idea of providing specialized sports training (and of insisting that athletes obtain an all-round education) began early in the revolutionary process, before Cuba became allies with the Soviet Union. In the first month of the revolution, sports academies were encouraged as a way to provide specialized training for athletes. All athletes in these academies and all those involved in competitions were obliged to attend evening classes to complete at least primary-level schooling.
By the 1963-1964 school year, there were at least 609 students receiving special sports training, as well as undertaking their general education. By the following school year, there were 1,049 students in the recently established EIDEs. In 1978, sports school students numbered at least 5,610 and were distributed among eight sports schools. By 1979, there were 9,743 students in Escuelas Provinciales de Education Fisica (EPEFs) and in ISCF and its affiliates. By 1986, 2,372 students were enrolled for the bachelor's degree of physical culture at the ISCF. In 1988, students in sports institutions numbered 9,609. By 1986, these institutions included 9 EPEFs, 6 Escuelas Superior de Perfeccionamiento Atletico (ESPAs), 12 EIDEs, about 140 pre-EIDEs, 1 ISCF, 6 ISCF Filiales, 5 ISCF Unidades Docentes, 1 Concentrado Deportivo, 1 Escuela para Gigantes, plus a number of sports-oriented ESBECs, as well as a large number of academies specializing in one sport or several related sports. In 1987, the total number of specialized sports schools and sports areas (excluding EPEF and ISCF) was 1,439, with a total enrollment of 128,246.
In 1984, however, Castro announced that the construction of sports schools was not going to be as high on the list of priorities in the foreseeable future. With so many already in existence, one might wonder if any more were necessary. Castro also indicated concerns about the functioning of sports schools and referred to an investigation being carried out by Alberto Juantorena (vice-president for high-performance sport in INDER) on the state of existing sports schools. Among these concerns were the condition of the facilities and the need to balance academic studies with sports training, perhaps indicative of an overemphasis on sports. Castro, however, indicated no doubt as to the continuing importance of top-level sports. Even if the second half of the 1980s saw a slowing in the construction of sports schools and an emphasis on quality rather than quantity, Cuba already had an elaborate and extensive sports school network, which began in the pre-EIDEs.
Young athletes are recommended for a special sports area by a teacher or are chosen on the basis of their competitive results. The third possibility, developed in the late 1970s, is through a test of biotype, which determines stamina, coordination, speed, sports skills, and general health. 12 Via one of these three avenues, a talented youngster can enter a special sports area or even a sports school. A child's parents can also apply for a place for their child in some of these schools. Presumably, applications are assessed on the basis of sports results, biotype, academic performance, and trials in their sport.
Athletes can also be selected from any of several national games we described in chapter 4. The School Games and the Workers' Games, among others, begin in local-level meets and progress to regional levels, in a system intended to promote allegiance to a region rather than to a center, a school, or a team. These various national games incorporate many of the Cubans who participate in sports. The structure of these meets and the policy of selecting for higher levels the best players from the losing teams (the seleccion), not just from the best teams, means that greater numbers of Cubans are considered for specialized training. The School Games, in particular, have provided an avenue for many youngsters to gain entry to a specialized center or school. Many of Cuba's top athletes began in the School Games .
Sports Participation Areas
Once athletes with outstanding talent are selected, they are slated for more intensive training in their particular sport. The first level consists of the sports participation areas. These areas are, perhaps, similar to the playground or park district circuits in the United States, parks with equipment and with coaches or trainers, possibly volunteers, made available to developing athletes.
In 1977, there were 1,624 special areas in operation, with 65,500 students practicing 27 sports. In 1978, the numbers fell to 1,080 areas and 50,166 students. The reason for this reduction is unknown, yet the Cubans still set a target of 3,000 areas with 109,476 students for 1980. Whether or not this goal was met when intended is unknown, but in 1985, numbers fell some 29,000 short of the 1980 objective. By 1988, there were 1,439 special centers for sports training, including 128,246 students in special areas.
The decline from 1977 to 1978 could have been because of changing methods of collecting statistics or the closure of some special areas. The failure to reach the 1985 goal for sports areas by 1988 and the failure to reach the 1980 target for student numbers by 1985, however, might indicate economic constraints, a limit to the number of talented youngsters meeting the qualifying standards, or simply an overly ambitious planning official (the latter possibility was evident in target setting for economic and social plans, as well as in sports planning).
Although goals are not always reached on time for special sports areas, there are still large numbers of young athletes using them. The 1987 INDER review, however, complained of the tendency to look only for champions, and of a lack of programs for teaching by categories and sports. Many of the youngsters who, despite these problems, received places in special areas could aspire to attend one of the many sports schools.
Cuba's sports schools, since the late 1970s, have catered to special students from early primary level through the university level, most of whom are provided with tuition and full room and board. In the 1960s, scholarships for university and technical school students included board and 50 pesos per month for single students or from 90 to 150 pesos for married students or those with dependents. Students were not permitted to have paid employment or other sources of income.
In the 1963-1964 school year, sports scholarships numbered just 609. By 1966, there were 3,736 scholarships granted by the state at a cost of 981.7 thousand pesos (see tables 20 and 21). Thus, each student was allocated an average of 263 pesos per year. These figures almost certainly excluded the cost of board for these students, most of whom received it in full.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF SPORTS SCHOOLS
In 1984, there were 140 pre-EIDEs (Schools Before the Initiation of Scholastic Sports), with 22,000 students. The goal was to build a pre-FIDE in each of the 169 municipalities. In the 1987 INDER report, however, there were criticisms of the failure to fulfill plans and of the poor growth in the number of pre-EIDEs.
The first pre-EIDEs were established in the 1976-1977 school year. Students generally attended pre-EIDEs from the ages of eight through twelve. The pre-FIDE Camilo Cienfuegos in Havana takes students as young as six years old. Enrollment ranged from 100 to as many as 800 in each school. Pre-FIDE Ruben Bravo in Marianao (Ciudad Habana) began in 1978-1979 with 727 students and 37 teachers, offering 12 sports. The pre-EIDE in Camaguey had 16 sports and a student-teacher ratio of 10-25 students to one teacher. By 1987, there were 31,267 pre-EIDE athletes. Graduates could then pursue their sports specialization in an EIDE or at a sports ESBEC.
Escuelas de Iniciación Deportiva Escolares, or EIDEs
The next level of intensive training for those showing talent are the EIDEs, directly modeled after the sports schools of East Germany and the former Soviet Union. The EIDEs combine a specialization in sports with the regular academic curriculum. Students attend on a daily or boarding basis, from the third or fourth grade of elementary school through the last year of preuniversity or high school.
The first EIDE was founded in 1964, with an initial enrollment of 1,049. By 1984, there were eleven of these schools and 13,000 students. Two years later, another FIDE had been added. By 1987, there were still eleven EIDEs in existence (one had been destroyed by a cyclone), with 11,742 students. Cuba, then, was well on its way toward its goal of having at least one EIDE in each of the fourteen provinces.
The EIDEs have clearly evolved with time. Baseball player Rodolfo Puente Zamora spoke of his student life in the early 1960s, converging with athletic practice in the EIDE in Arroyo Naranjo, Ciro Frias. Puente's account paints a picture of this particular EIDE at this particular time as, perhaps, a school he attended after finishing his regular day at a regular school. Curiously, a report made by the Cuban Ministry of Education in 1967 to the UNESCO Conference on Public Instruction does not include any schools that are identified as EIDEs or sports schools. It is possible that they were simply not listed separately.
In any case, the EIDEs of the early 1960s were far less elaborate and much smaller than those that exist today. In November 1976, the EIDE in Holguin was opened with much fanfare, touted as the Afirst in the country for its characteristics :
Independently of receiving their general preparation and of accomplishing their sports training in order to achieve a better performance, the students successfully combine the principles of communist education by mixing cultural activities, recreational activities, productive work, and formal education as the right way to instill in our youth and children the communist morality . . . .
The Capitán Manuel Orestes School in Santiago de Cuba is similar to the one in Holguin. Over 1,500 students are taught by a staff of 69 teachers for academic subjects and 139 coaches and other sports specialists. The various facilities of the school include a massive gymnasium, three swimming pools (including one of Olympic size), a diving tank, two baseball diamonds, track and field facilities, a handball court, and four tennis courts, and there is a velodrome planned for the future.
We will not hold back efforts so that each day our students will be better students, outstanding athletes, and exemplary revolutionaries.
Over two thousand students enjoy similar facilities at the Martires de Barbados in Havana Province:
The school, built with the Girón system of prefabricated sections, consists of two blocks of classrooms; a building housing the kitchen and dining room; four blocks of dormitories; and a great number of sports facilities, among them two Olympic-size pools; one training pool; one diving tank; and a large gym for basketball, fencing, gymnastics, table tennis, judo, boxing, and wrestling. There are also baseball and soccer fields; track and field areas; and outdoor basketball, volleyball, and tennis courts.
The number of staff at this school is impressive: 169 coaches and trainers, and 70 academic teachers. Although students do get a taste of general physical education, the basic formula is "one child, one sport, year round."
The Cubans claim to know the one sport in which the child excels by the time he is nine years old. Joel Despaigne, star of the Cuban men's volleyball team at the 1991 Pan American Games and the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, entered an EIDE in Santiago when he was twelve years old. Two years later, he was moved to Havana to play on the junior national team and was already attracting international attention.
A student can be selected for an EIDE from a special sports area, from the School Games, or from a pre EIDE. But students in EIDEs are not allowed to be more than one year behind in school; the previous year of studies must be successfully completed. (There is no information on how flexible these rules are.) In addition, medical certification of age and health must be presented. Involvement in a mass organization (almost all Cubans belong to a mass organization), as a voluntary sports activist, or as a sports monitor in a regular school, works in favor of a student who is applying for entry into an EIDE.
In addition to outstanding talent and promising biotypes, students may also be chosen because they have unusually advantageous characteristics for a particular sport, such as height for basketball. This is similar in logic to the recruitment, direct from Africa, of 7'7" Manute Bol to play basketball in the United States, when he had no background in the sport. The attempt is made to decide on a child's potential in a particular sport, in order to begin intensive training as early as possible.
However, the Cubans are not so rigid as to ignore a good reason to change from one sport to another, if developing talent justifies it. Boxer Teofilo Stevenson used to play baseball; middle distance runner Alberto Juantorena was originally slated for basketball. When it became clear how fast Juantorena could run in bulky basketball shoes, his prescient coaches began to speculate on what he could do on a track with the proper training and equipment.
Once accepted, students must pass each year of regular schoolwork in order to hold their place. Students are expected to combine sports training, academic studies, and sometimes productive work. Theoretically, at least, failure in any of these areas could cost the student his place in a sports school. However, there is no information on whether any outstanding athletes have been expelled for failing to meet these other requirements. Three hours of the school day and after hours training are devoted to sports, with the remainder of the school day left for academic studies.
From fifteen to twenty five sports are practiced in the EIDEs, all Olympic sports, including baseball. The EIDE Martires de Barbados in Havana has twenty five sports, and Pedro Diaz Coello in Holguin has eighteen. These schools boast some of the best coaching and athletic facilities in the country. In 1978, the EIDE in Santiago de Cuba had 139 sports teachers for 1,500 students, as well as three pools, two baseball diamonds, an athletics track, a handball court, four tennis courts, a large gymnasium, and a cycling track was planned. The approximately one thousand students attending the EIDE in Matanzas in 1978 had access to a gymnasium, two baseball fields, tennis courts, volleyball and basketball courts, an athletics track, a cycling track, a shooting range, and three pools. A similar list of facilities is available in other EIDEs.
Apparently, it is not enough. In 1984 and 1988, there was criticism of the poor maintenance and the underutilization of EIDE facilities. This in part might have motivated the 1984 investigation conducted by Alberto Juantorena and other sports officials. By 1988 there were complaints that the potential of EIDE students was growing more slowly than expected, given the level of development in Cuban sport.
In some cases, the Cubans have found it necessary to emphasize a particular sport, usually the ones that have been traditionally weak on the island. Cuba has developed one of the best water polo teams in the world, yet swimming remains its weakest sport. There is an EIDE on the Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth, formerly the Isle of Pines), where the emphasis is on the water sports: swimming, diving, canoeing, sailing, and water polo. In 1977, Castro spoke of strength in some events and weakness in others. "We do not go anywhere with the discus. We do not go anywhere with the javelin. It is a good thing that we do not have to live off hunting like primitive man because we would certainly starve to death." The strategy worked. In the 1980 Olympics, Cuban Maria Caridad Colon (who attended an FIDE) placed first in the javelin, the first Latin American woman ever to win Olympic gold; Luis Delis placed third in the discus.
Despite the perquisites of life in the EIDEs individual attention from talented coaches, access to high quality facilities, and more and better food than is rationed for the general population (and this is more true in the 1990s than ever) entrance to one of these schools does not spell a life of leisure. Standards for these modern EIDEs are well defined. Students' progress is recorded meticulously, and they are continually evaluated not only for their athletic performance but also for the academic level they maintain and their degree of political commitment. Castro cautioned the athletes:
You are not going to be professional athletes; you are not going to make a living at sports . . . . You will make it from your work. You will be able to go as far as you wish in sports, but you will also be able to go as far as you wish as citizens and as professionals and technicians.
The outcome is a system very unlike the athletic scholarships given in the United States. Three young basketball players (two were former EIDE students, all three were current ESPA students) emphasized how important it was that they keep up in their academic studies. All three made cutting motions under their chins to show what would happen if they did not obtain the required grades. Castro described the system during his dedication at the school Martires de Barbados:
Of course, it is known that students come to these schools based on their merits, capability, and aptitude. However, a point where we can never fail, and we cannot condone failure in this area even to the champion of champions, is the fulfillment of obligations as students. We cannot permit that an athlete be a poor student. Before violating this principle we would prefer to lose a champion. Therefore, as a golden rule, an athlete must be a good student and must pass his course. Secondly, an athlete must develop his sports and physical capabilities to the maximum. He must not neglect this. The third rule: selection must be continuous in these schools. The fact that someone has entered in a specific grade . . . does not mean that he has to remain in the school until he finishes. There must be a renewal of students because if . . . better prospects emerge, those who have been in the school and have not shown the same abilities must yield their place to the new ones .... Renewal of students is a principle that must be applied. There must never be a place occupied here when there is a student with better capabilities unable to join the school.
After seeing the talent that was beginning to amass in these schools, in 1979 INDER officials found it necessary to change the system of competition for the School Games. Prior to that time, all schools competed among themselves, including the EIDEs with the non-EIDE schools. As the talent became concentrated in the EIDEs, the non-EIDEs were invariably eliminated by the special sports schools. After 1979, the system was changed into two parallel structures, in which the regular schools compete among themselves and the EIDEs compete among themselves. With this change, the EIDEs and the regular schools never meet in competition. This gives more incentive to the students in the non-EIDE schools and, in turn, gives the talent scouts more new talent to observe (especially given the system of selección that we discussed in chapter 4).
Escuelas Secundarias Básicas en el Campo, or ESBECs
The EIDEs were the first of Cuba's sports schools and had some of the best facilities available. They were, however, in or near cities, usually provincial capitals. Although students who were not local were provided with their board, the decision to establish Escuelas Secundarias Básicas in el Campo or ESBECs (Basic secondary schools in the countryside) might have been motivated by a desire to offer specialized sports training to more students in rural or sparsely populated areas. These sports schools in rural areas were established so that students could also take part in agricultural labor, thereby receiving a more comprehensive education and developing a respect for manual as well as mental labor. A sports center, the Concentrado Deportívo, was even established to meet the needs of students on the Isle of Youth.
The ESBECs with sports emphasis operate parallel with the EIDEs. Students range in age from twelve to fifteen years old. In each ESBEC, there are usually about 500 students, although there were 1,082 students in 1979 in Las Tunas. In ESBECs, as in other sports schools, the physical condition and biotype of students is assessed, and only selected students are accepted. Like the mostly urban-based pre-EIDEs, the ESBECs are intended to provide facilities at a local level, but in rural, not urban areas.
One ESBEC in Santiago de Cuba was made into a micro-EIDE. This school took from seventh- to ninth-grade students and gave preference to those from rural areas. Why this change was made, or whether other ESBECs were or will be converted to micro-EIDES is unknown.
Another school similar to the EIDEs, the micro-EIDEs, and the ESBECs, was the concentrado deportivo on the Isle of Youth. Originally an ESBEC, this school became the Mijail Frunze Concentrado Deportivo. In 1977, there were 396 students aged from twelve to fifteen. Their days were long-fourteen hours of classes and work, including agricultural labor. There were forty-four teachers, twenty-four sports trainers, and fifteen apprentice sports trainers. Sixteen sports were practiced. There are at least twenty-eight specialized schools on the Isle of Youth, many with sports facilities especially for rowing, kayaking, canoeing, and water sports.
Graduates from Mijail Frunze as well as the micro-EIDEs, EIDEs, and ESBECs could then attend one of several higher-level sports schools.
Escuela Superior de Perfeccionamiento Atlkico, or ESPA
The Escuela Superior de Perfeccionamiento Adetico (Higher school of athletic perfection), or ESPA, was established in the early: 1960s in Havana. It underwent a major reconstruction for use in the World Youth Festival that was held in Cuba in 1978. According to Hector Rodriguez Cordoso, who defected to the United States, ESPA is based in the old Cubanacan Country Club and provides athletes with special treatment such as extra food, clothing, and high-quality housing.
In a sense, the EIDEs and the other sports schools serve as a sort of Afarm system for this next level of training. From ESPA come all the teams that represent Cuba in international competition. It is the culmination of the movement from mass participation toward expertise in a sport. This scientific process of development or training cycle never takes less than six years or more than ten. And, as at all levels of development, there are more athletes than necessary chosen for this elite school. This prevents an attitude of complacency. A student is never allowed to take for granted a team position that he may hold at one time. He must continue to work for it.
Three students from ESPA (en route to a basketball tournament in Poland) described a typical day. After breakfast (of better food than that served in the regular schools), they studied academic subjects from 8:00 A.M. until 1:00 P.m. The afternoon and early evening were reserved for practice and training in each individual sport.
In 1975, 126 students graduated from ESPA, including the sprinter Silvio Leonard. The content of the courses and the training provided have not been released. In 1985, a law was passed requiring trainers at ESPA and the National Training Center Cerro Pelado to hold a bachelor's degree in physical culture. Later that year, more legislation required trainers at ESPA to be high-level graduates from a special sports area.
By 1979, the first of several provincial ESPAs was established in Pinar del Rio. There were 62 teachers and 40 sports trainers who taught 389 students specializing in a choice of 19 sports. In the 1980s, four more provincial ESPAs were opened to cater to more top athletes. Yet, the ESPAs, like the EIDEs, were criticized for failing to develop their full potential.
THE TRAINING OF SPORTS PERSONNEL
Institfito Superior de Cultura Ffsica, or ISCF
With a countrywide emphasis upon sports participation for the masses, it is essential that INDER have enough qualified instructors, trainers, and other personnel to meet the need. In 1959, the new revolutionary government had faced a dearth of physical education teachers, and in 1963, Manuel Fajardo was created to fill this need. At first, this school for training PE teachers was designed to train as many people as quickly as possible, and the first class numbered seven hundred students.
By 1970, Cuba had begun to construct similar institutions in the provinces. With the growth of these, Manuel Fajardo was upgraded to the Escuela Superior de Educacion Fisica Comandante Manuel Fajardo (Higher school for physical education), or ESEF. Between 1963 and 1973, there were sixteen hundred graduates from ESEF. After the initial short courses, regular courses of three and a half years' duration were organized and included studies in the theory and practice of sports and recreation. Entry requirements in 1966 included completion of basic secondary school, proof of age (between fifteen and twenty-five), and a health certificate, as well as evidence of having been a sports monitor in a regular school. Further prerequisites included, of course, proof of athletic experience and ability and evidence of participation in a revolutionary organization, such as a CDR.
In 1973, the ESEF was upgraded to university level and changed its name to the Instituto Superior de Cultura Fisica, or ISCF. Within the next two years it began to offer correspondence courses (1975) and evening classes (1974). In 1977, ISCF affiliates were opened in six provinces to provide similar studies outside Havana. In 1982, there were seven Filiales. In the 1980s, postgraduate courses were also offered. The course at ISCF was extended to five years in 1982 and, by 1985, 4,452 students had graduated from the tertiary level.
Entry to ISCF is apparently not easy. Students need a 90 per. cent grade average and superior athletic ability. The domination of the ISCF team in national tertiary-level competitions suggests that the conditions on athletic ability are strictly enforced.53 ISCF graduates are also well placed to gain the best employment positions in physical culture. Presumably, trainers in ESPAs and in the National Training Center Cerro Pelado (who are required to have physical culture degrees) are ISCF graduates. It is likely that, increasingly, INDER officials will be ISCF graduates.
Most new ISCF students have already spent four years in an EPEF, and therefore receive as many as nine years of specialized training in either sports, physical education, or recreation, and a sound general training in all three. Students also receive a tertiary education in general studies. In 1986, the ISCF included a Faculty for Workers (practicing teachers and trainers). Other facilities were the Armed Forces (FAR) Faculty; the Faculty of Postgraduate Studies; and the Faculty for High-Performance Athletes, which offered a special seven-year course for top athletes.
All students must take academic and physical culture courses (or cycles) as well as basic military training, and they have to present an investigative thesis. Students can specialize as a sports trainer (438 hours of classes) or in recreation and physical education (300 hours of classes and practical teaching in the countryside). The details of the 4,638-hour course for 1986-1987 included over two thousand hours of physical culture courses. The ISCF, like other sports institutions, has many sports facilities as well as access to those in the nearby Ciudad Deportiva.
ISCF produces highly trained physical culture specialists. It also provides vocational training for many of Cuba's top athletes, who may have already attended a sports school or other specialized training center for their particular sport.
National Training Centers
Cuba also established numerous sports academies to provide training for talented athletes. Before 1959, such academies had existed only for boxing and baseball, but similar academies for soccer, jai alai, swimming, volleyball, athletics, judo, basketball, fencing, wrestling, waterskiing, and kayaking were soon founded in 1959. By the end of 1959, there were 2,035 students in these various institutions. The number of academies grew throughout the island, and by the mid-1970s, each province had its own baseball academy. By 1987, there were 11,858 students in eleven provincial academies; 1,202 students in three juvenile national centers; and 885 students in four national centers.
The end of the 1970s saw the emergence of national schools for other sports as well, such as fencing, equestrian sports, aquatic sports, gymnastics, and sprinting. Other special centers were established also, such as the ASchool for Giants and the CEDA Manuel Permuy center (Experimental school for athletic development), in the city of Havana. The School for Giants began in April 1979 and had 123 students aged between 11 and 18; it offered training for very tall youngsters. The CEDA Manuel Permuy, in La Lisa Municipality, had 508 students aged between 11 and 13 in 1978, one year after it opened. This center assessed the physical qualities of its students and analyzed diet, metabolism, and related functions. The course involved 850 hours of classes, taught by 12 teachers, including 100 hours of physical activities in a program that also included work, social work, and military training. These two centers are indicative of Cuba's growing emphasis on scientific approaches toward the detection of sports ability.
Besides sports schools and academies, some of Cuba's vocational schools have excellent sports facilities. Included among these was the Maximo Gomez Vocational School, with two gymnasia, an athletic track, and a baseball field, as well as basketball and volleyball courts. High priority was also placed on providing swimming pools in vocational schools. The most famous vocational school in Cuba, however, had perhaps the best sports facilities outside of the specialized sports schools. The Lenin School, established at the suggestion of Fidel Castro, is in an area of 300,000 square meters near the Lenin Park in Havana and had about 4,500 students in 1974. Facilities include saunas, two Olympic pools, a diving tank, ten basketball courts, ten volleyball courts, three baseball diamonds, two tennis courts, a fencing center, and a gymnastics hall. The Lenin School is also mysteriously absent from public tours of Cuba's other showcase facilities, such as the Havana Psychiatric Hospital and Ciudad Deportiva.
In addition to these centers and sports institutions, special training and medical supervision is also available through the sports unit of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.
At all levels, the Cubans take the training of a PE teacher very seriously. According to Cuban journalist Maria Elena Gil:
It is not the only objective of the EPEFs to create teachers who impart sports knowledge to their students. The professor of physical education that INDER proposes to forge, in conjunction with MINED, should be one who forms the youth of tomorrow, a complete guide who knows to include in his method of teaching the practice of sport, the assimilation of the habits of discipline, of conscience, will and perseverance that ought to unite all athletes and all revolutionary youth in general.
Today, ISCF trains the PE professors at the highest levels, while the EPEFs concentrate on producing middle-level technicians. Graduates from ISCF, all of whom have mastered the three areas of sports, physical education, and recreation, number over a thousand per year.
Those EPEFs located in the provinces are called Escuelas Provincial de Educacion Fisica or EPEFs. By 1983, there were eight EPEFs. In the 1977-1978 course, there were 6,664 students in the EPEFs, including 2,051 undertaking practical teaching experience. The students usually ranged in age from 13 to 18 years, but older, practicing PE teachers could also study at EPEF, while also receiving their full salary.
ESBEC graduates were given preference in these teacher-training schools, presumably with the intention that they would return to their rural districts to teach after graduating. In 1975, entrance to primary-level teacher-training courses was opened to males who were from 13 to 14 years old and to females who were from 13 to 16 years old. Students must have completed the seventh grade, without any failures. For secondary school teacher training, students must be between 13 and 14 for males and between 13 and 18 for females. They are required to have completed ninth grade, without any failures. In 1979, prospective students also needed to have passed LPV tests and be good at sports. By 1981, students also needed to pass a medical test and a personal interview, in addition to obtaining a 160 point grade average (presumably out of a maximum 200) in seventh and eighth grades. The usual maximum age was also lowered to 16, although 17-year-olds from rural areas were still considered.
The four- or five-year course at EPEF includes practical teaching experience for half of each academic year from the second year onwards. This experience is typically undertaken in an isolated school, thus providing PE teachers (albeit inexperienced) in regions where they might not choose to work permanently. Courses at the EPEFs include general academic subjects and pedagogy, as well as training in sports, popular physical culture, or recreation. The EPEF in Holguin, for example, teaches topics such as Spanish, English, mathematics, physics, chemistry, history of physical education, Marxism, morphology, physiology, psychology, theory and methods, pedagogy, and sports medicine, in addition to practical classes in at least seventeen different sports. Upon graduating from such a program, students are full-fledged PE teachers, prepared to enter, if desired, studies at ISCF. Beginning in 1980-1981, EPEF graduates emerged with a specialization in two sports. In addition, work toward the diploma includes a work notebook, in which the student records his completion of up to ten different projects, six of which are obligatory. Students must also complete an investigative work, addressing solutions to some fundamental problems that Cuba faces in physical education and sports.
Even though students training to be PE teachers do not have to be world-class athletes, they are organized to continuously hone their own skills. Inter-EPEF games, held nationally, also underscore the emphasis on competition:
The end result of this meeting is that the future professors can practically apply, for themselves, the theoretical-tactical knowledge that was given to them in the halls of [EPEF]. One cannot conceive, for example, of a swimming trainer who is not an acceptable swimmer... Further, they constitute a valuable stimulus for the students to practice sport daily.
EPEFs also served as centers for the provincial sports medicine institutes and for Unidades Docentes or Filiales of the ISCF. These provincial centers offered some of the services available in the main institutions in Havana.
In terms of facilities, ISCF (ESEF), EPEFs and ESPA have the most advanced facilities and equipment, which are usually not available for public use. In Santiago de Cuba, the EPEF (with a 1,0001,500 student capacity) has a twenty-five-meter pool, diving tank, water-polo pool, plus the use of the INDER-Santiago facilities, located adjacent to the school in the Guillermon Moncada Stadium. This includes one of the two tracks on the entire island with a Rekortan surface, imported from East Germany.
The ISCF and the EPEFs now train PE instructors at the university and postgraduate level. But this is a relatively recent development. Prior to 1972, these facilities served to provide the country with as many middle-level technicians as possible, just to ameliorate the tremendous lack of qualified teachers that existed in the cities and throughout the countryside.
According to Juan Kindelan, an official with INDER-Santiago, when he was in school it was necessary to go abroad. He obtained his master's degree in East Germany. This problem is slowly being addressed. (With the closing of opportunities to study in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, due to the massive changes in these nations, the necessity to develop an independent training capacity within Cuba has become paramount.) By August 1980, there were twenty-three doctoral candidates enrolled at ISCF. By 1990, there were fifty doctoral students.
If instructors for the primary levels did not exist, then there would be no specialists in particular sports capable of training the best athletes. And the Cubans were unwilling to wait the twenty years required to develop their own expertise in the various athletic fields. Help came in the form of coaches and trainers from other countries, especially from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. AThere are many cases of proletarian internationalism in sport.
According to Jorge Garcia Bango, former director of INDER, AWe pay whatever is necessary to bring them, to arrange for foreign coaches. The Soviet Union, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary have all provided Cuba with the greatest technical assistance. Andrei Chervonenko of the Soviet Union has trained, in the past, Teofilo Stevenson, Orlando Martinez, and other Cuban boxers. The Hungarian Karoly Laky worked with the Cuban water-polo team, which is now one of the best in the world. Alberto Juantorena received the able coaching of the late Zigmunt Zabierzowski, who returned to Poland after seeing his charge through two gold medals in Montreal. In 1967, Soviet gymnastics coach Zinaida Podolskaya went to Cuba to help with the women's gymnastics movement there. She was soon followed by Diana Sivolcava and Maria Vinogradova (Zaitseva). Evgenii Vov and Alberto Aznavurian also worked on the gymnastics program. Leonid Shcherbakov, Soviet Olympic triple jumper, coached Pedro Perez Duenas and other Cubans until 1976. Evgenii Cheroposki worked with Eduardo John on the fencing foil. Nikolai Durnev went with the Cuban marksmen to the twentieth Olympics in Munich. Leonid Gusevski also worked with the marksmen. Yuri Zamiatin helped develop wrestling, and Stephen Boutatas coached the basketball team that won third place in Munich. Other names include Valentin Samkhvolov, for track and field; Vasilii Romanov, for boxing; Evgenii Boechin, for cycling; Yuri Melnikov, for diving; Chitov Viatcheslav, for physical culture; Oleg Pozanov and Igor Isakov, for fencing; Evgenii Matseev, Vladimir Medvediev, and Vasilii Muraviov in ISCF; Anotolii Nikonov and Oleg Stokin, for gymnastics; Evgenii Rysin, for weightlifting; Yuri Ribalko, for wrestling; Yuri Stoida, Elena Matveva, and Nina Borozina on language translation. Florian Stoenescu of Romania worked with the handball team. In 1976, Yutsaka Matsudaira, coach of the Japanese volleyball team, gave a course at INDER for Cuban volleyball coaches and trainers.
Cubans have also been sent abroad, at times, to sharpen their coaching or athletic skills. Gymnastics coaches Juana Bravet Quesis and Verania Pinera both studied in the Soviet Union. Until recently, the only sports official in Cuba with a doctorate in the field, Hernandez Corbo, obtained his degree in Bulgaria. Often, the simple contact with other athletes serves as a training experience.
As the Cubans advanced, the network of foreign assistance began to flow in the other direction. In 1972, Cuban sprinter Enrique Figuerola coached Soviet athletes in Odessa and Minsk. Cuban coaches and trainers have been sent to Angola, Panama, Mexico, Jamaica, Guyana, and Chile. They were reportedly imprisoned by the junta after Allende's assassination in Chile in 1973. In 1976, Yugoslavia announced it was going to follow the "Cuban recipe in training its boxers." In addition, Cuba encourages students from other countries to study at Manuel Fajardo (ISCF) on an exchange program. As of 1978, there were students from a number of other countries in Latin America and at least one student from the United States.
It is more important, perhaps, that Cuban coaches abroad are now earning valuable hard currency, which is pumped back into the state. In the 1970s, there were forty-two foreign coaches in Cuba. In 1992, there was only one for the Olympics, in archery. There are 150 Cuban coaches working throughout the world. Nine countries at Barcelona had Cuban boxing coaches, while others have hired Cubans in volleyball, weightlifting, track and field, and other sports.
Cuba established sports exchange programs with countries outside of Eastern Europe. These included Mexico, Canada, Algeria, Portugal, Nicaragua, Angola, Cape Verde, Jamaica, and Grenada, among others. Cuban sports specialists worked in thirty-three foreign countries, and foreign students were given places in the ISCF and in the EPEFs.
THE SCIENTIFIC SYSTEM
Recruitment and Selection
There has been no attempt to keep the dual goal of the Cuban sports program a secret. Above all, for purposes of mental and physical health, recreation, and general well-being, sports should play a part in the life of every Cuban. The most effective way to instill this desire for physical activity is through the PE program. Castro described how the more talented athletes will emerge from the resulting mass movement in sports:
One day we shall have thousands of young people studying physical education, excellent sports facilities in all schools, and interschool competitions as a means of selection. However, there is more to it than selection, for sport should be pursued not just to win competitions. Competitions are important; but there is something more important-sport as a cultural and recreational activity for the people. Of course, if everybody practices a sport, if all children pursue a sport, we shall have champions.
In fact, each goal merely serves to feed the other. The more people who participate in sports, the greater the chance for true talent to develop and be discovered. The subsequent success that such talent achieves serves as a strong stimulus to encourage even more people to become actively involved in sports. This point was made clearly by Jose Ramon Fernandez Alvarez, former vice-president of the Council of Ministers, minister of Culture, Sports, and Education, and member of the Politburo until the 1991 congress, when he greeted the Cuban athletes returning from Moscow:
These successes [in the 1980 Olympics] should be a stimulus for people so that in the future the base of the pyramid is broadened, with each Cuban being able to demonstrate his or her true abilities, and among all the people-among those hundreds of thousands of young people, students and workers from the cities and the countryside-we can choose those with the best qualifications to go to the Olympics.
With a national population smaller than that of New York, London, or Tokyo, Cuba can hardly afford not to consider all possibilities for development, in its search for talent. The Cubans claim to know a child's best sport by the time that child is nine years old. Yet, it is in their best interests to be open-minded about the selection process. The well-organized system of evaluation they have-in both the physical efficiency tests and the different levels of competition-serves as a fine-mesh net, ready to catch any late developers who exhibit their talent later in life, and in some cases, athletes who may have been funneled into the wrong sport.
The recent change in the organization of the School Games to keep the regular schools and the EIDEs separate was certainly a calculated move. More time and attention are thus given to young athletes who are not students at an EIDE. Experience has already taught the Cubans that there is a wealth of talent hidden in these students. Among those who have been Adiscovered at the School Games are names such as Urrutia, Duenas, Leonard, Puente, Casanas, Romero, Chivas, Caridad Colon, Delis, and Despaigne. "[The School Games] are considered a furnace from which are forged the future members of the national teams."
The emphasis on competition extends past the educational system. In 1976, 6,000 people participated in the Family Games, which are handicapped according to age. There were almost 600,000 participants in the 1976 Workers' Games, 105,000 of which were women. By the mid-1970s, more than one-quarter of the population engaged in INDER-sponsored competition in more than twenty sports. These contests provide a tremendous source of recreation, both passive and active, for the Cuban people.
Selection and Training
It is instructive to look more closely at the selection process by which national athletes are chosen and the methods by which they are trained. The process by which the more talented athletes are selected out for more intensive training has evolved, with time and experience, into a scientific procedure. All children are evaluated when they are quite young, and at frequent intervals as they grow and develop. In addition, the network of competition, within school and outside of it, helps INDER officials to catch potential talent that they may have missed in the individual evaluations. These officials are trained for several purposes. One group serves as talent scouts out in the field, while the other group works on the more scientific, research side of selection. These research people report to the talent scouts out in the field which scientific measures they should be looking for; if biotype A or biotype B correlates higher with this or that sport, for example; or which type of muscle fiber makes a better sprinter or a better distance athlete, and which athlete has which type. If, after a number of years and frequent evaluations, the athlete still exhibits potential talent, he will be sent to ESPA for training, in order to represent his country in international competition. The older competitors remain students at ESEF while they continue their training.
When asked about his specific training regimen, Alberto Juantorena has said more than once that it is a Astate secret. And one begins to believe it, from the amount of information available on the subject. In direct imitation of the former East German and Soviet systems, the Cubans are attempting to give athletic training a scientific base. There is also a strong effort to draw on as many scientific fields that could have any bearing on athletic activity as possible. For each sport, there is a scientific team, headed by a physician who is responsible for the care of the athletes in the sport, for the development of the sport, and presumably for breakthroughs in the selection process. The physician in charge of this group is one of the Atechnical members of the Agoverning body of the particular sport. Then each national team has a Coaching Committee, described by Ron Pickering:
Every national coach has direct contact with the Institute [of Sports Medicine) and the Coaching Committees which arrange the annual training program of each athlete or event group. The Coaching Committee consists of the national coach, a sports physician, a sports psychologist and a member of the technical committee of the governing body who knows the dates and venues of all fixtures.
The psychologist spends more time working with the coaches than with the athletes. According to officials at INDER-Santiago, he helps overcome the competition anxiety of both coaches and athletes. In addition, he serves to motivate and inspire, as well as to give relaxing exercises and the like.
The increasingly scientific bent of INDER can be seen in the development of several of its newer departments. Within INDER is the Centro de Investigaciones a Informaci6n de Deporte (Center of investigation and information in sport) or CINID. There are two separate departments within CINID: one is the Centro de Computaci6n Estadistica y Matematica Aplicada (Center for statistical computation and applied mathematics), or CEMA. The function of the center has been described only very superficially in the Cuban press. CEMA keeps cards on all the athletes who make up the different levels of national teams. Records are kept of their various performances, and projections are made as to their progress in their different events. CEMA also keeps complete records of the performances of all the athletes who participate in the control. A control is a regularly scheduled contest of the upper level athletes, conducted under Ameet conditions. It serves as an evaluative measure for team and individual progress. It can also be useful in the selection of athletes for an international event, based on their performance in the control. This is especially true for sports in which progress is measured by time.
The other section of CINID is the Centro de Documentaci6n e Información Cientifico-Tecnica (Center for documentation and scientific and technical information), or CEDOC. CEDOC is concerned with information of a broader nature. Its purpose is to provide trainers and coaches with up-to-date information about progress in the various sports and, in particular, the achievements recorded by other countries in athletic endeavors and in training methods.
According to Huberto Gil, former head of CINID, CEDOC serves as an invaluable information center. The statistics compiled and stored in CEMA enable sports officials to study the necessary data needed to train athletes more efficiently. By calling up on the computer the information stored on an athlete, a trainer can see the progression in the athlete's performance and training methods in relation to a specific block of time in order to predict the athlete's level of achievement by a certain date. In the case of a runner, for example, a trainer can consider how he should conduct his training for the next four years if he wants to peak for the 1996 Olympics and perform well at the various international contests between now and then. This is already done (albeit at an unknown level of sophistication and with an unknown degree of success) at INDER-Havana.
INDER has decided to expand this program to Santiago de Cuba. The Centro de Informatica del Deporte (Sports information center) there supplies the same type of information to the coaches and trainers at the EIDE Capitán Orestes Acosta in Santiago. The plan is that each EIDE in the country will have this capability in the future. But one wonders how far this scientific method can filter down. However, this concerted effort to make the sports program as scientific as possible clearly mimics the system the East Germans have used for years, and with tremendous international success.
Juan Kindelan of INDER-Santiago said that, after all, the Cubans would rather amass champions than statistics. For purposes of evaluating the Cuban system, there is never enough specific information given to assess the methods used, the success rate achieved, or even the level of sophistication reached. A somewhat reliable indicator, at least of the level of sophistication, might be to evaluate the hardware used. In 1975, it was reported that INDER had two computers, a CID-201-A and a CID-201-B. Five years later, only the latter was mentioned in the press. This level of computer is very small, very slow, and very unsophisticated. In 1992, the INDER central office was using a Cuban C300 as well as IBM and IBM compatible microcomputers, purchased from transnational corporations. Software is made in Cuba. The collapse of socialism in Europe has not had a major negative impact on this aspect of Cuban sports. However, all the INDER computers are now stored in the one room that still has air-conditioning.
A clear and frequently used test measures the maximum oxygen-consumption capacity. Yet this experiment is difficult to conduct without expensive laboratory equipment. The Cubans discovered a close correlation between the rate of oxygen utilization and physical-work capacity. Both are standard measures of physical efficiency as applied to athletes. The pulse rate of 170 beats per minute approaches the maximum physical-work capacity. "Training" involves pushing the pulse rate to a certain level, such as 170, and sustaining it over a period of time. However, to monitor an athlete's pulse at such a high rate over any period of time would also require relatively sophisticated equipment. But the Cubans found a way to circumvent this problem: they found a nearly linear relationship between work rate and pulse rate. This means that they could measure pulse rates for two fixed submaximal work rates, plot the linear relationship between the two points on a graph, and then extrapolate to determine the work rate needed to achieve a pulse of 170 .
For example, a runner's pulse could be taken after he has run a mile in eight minutes. Next, his pulse would be taken after a six-minute mile. After plotting these two points, the line between them could be extended to find at which speed his pulse would reach 170, in this case, perhaps at the four- or five-minute mile. For a non-runner, a twelve-minute mile and a ten-minute mile might show that an eight-minute mile for this person gives the required 170. Using the step test, the Cubans have devised a chart, for both athletes and non-athletes according to age, showing how many steps per minute are required to produce 170 beats per minute .
In the 1980s, four provincial information centers were formed, extending this specialized information service to areas outside Havana. They provided limited services to the majority of Cubans. In a similar manner, the Sports Medicine Institute was primarily concerned with top athletes, and like sports science, was extended to include provincial centers.
One of the most advanced areas of the Cuban sports system is that of sports medicine. Its growth is proof of the scientific bent of present-day Cuban sports and of the revolutionary government's dedication to the sports system.
Rene Iglesias y Rodriguez Mena has been a witness to the field both before and after 1959. He graduated from medical school in 1940. In 1944, in his spare time, he began to specialize in sports medicine. This specialization was academically sound but suffered from lack of government support. In those days, specialists were able to offer little more than medical assistance; because there was no budget, they could attend only to boxers and baseball players. Even then, a clinical exam consisted of nothing more than a test to determine whether an athlete was in condition to compete, or to help them when they were sick, and even in these cases, the doctors were dependent on specialists in other areas. Their equipment consisted of a simple X-ray machine and basic laboratory equipment.
In 1962, the Institute of Sports Medicine was established. It began with the international exchange of specialists in different fields: other socialist countries gave technical aid, and many Cubans went abroad for further training. This is the point at which sports medicine ceased to be merely medical assistance and became a scientific and technical area.
The Institute is located in the same complex as INDER and Ciudad Deportiva in Havana. In 1982, it was headed by Dr. Arnaldo Pallares, a former national champion in the javelin, and the staff consisted of at least 142 workers and technicians, 42 physicians, 17 psychologists, 6 dentists, 3 biologists, 17 physiotherapists, 2 dieticians, and 4 statisticians. In 1990, there were 80 sports medicine specialists. The Cubans have found it helpful if most of the staff are themselves athletes. The physicians and the psychologists have had two years of study in their specialty beyond the normal degree. In addition, the Institute includes other departments: Management and Administration, Research, Teaching, Medical Assistance (working in combination with a local hospital and with the Department of Traumatology for surgery and other more complex cases), and Physical Development.
Every athlete of national caliber has a current medical dossier. Twice a year, this folder is updated with a thorough medical exam and a comprehensive program of tests encompassing recordings of agility, coordination, concentration, reaction time, equilibrium, IQ, memory, and motivation, which brings in the psychological state of the athlete. At the research institute, the staff also study the possibilities and the reserves of the athlete through anthropomorphic and neuromuscular studies. They experiment with a controlled diet containing the necessary amount of calories and protein. Dentists advise on possible therapeutic and preventative measures.
Armed with this information, the doctors work as part of the Coaching Committees. The goal is to make world-class athletes by eliminating their deficits, shortcomings, and hangups and by enhancing their natural skills and talents.
The Institute also functions as an instructional facility, teaching courses in conjunction with ESEF. Future plans apparently include Provincial Centers of Sports Medicine connected to the existing and planned EPEFs. There are two other centers besides the main institute in Havana. In Pinar del Rio, a Centro Provincial de Medicina Deportiva (Provincial center for sports medicine), or CPOMEDE, was inaugurated in 1977. Initial departments included cardiology, a respiratory and laboratory clinic, as well as nursing and stomatology. In 1977, Dr. Aramis Mazorra headed a staff of three doctors who were specialists in sports medicine, a stomatologist, midlevel technicians, and other qualified personnel.
The major goal of the Center is to improve the quality of sport in the province. The staff aims for Astrict control of the sport in terms of the amount of training to apply to each athlete, which requires medical supervision on the fields and in the laboratories. Medical assistance is developed from the general point of view, and from the point of view of injury suffered with the athletes in training and in competition, through a counseling program. Medical counseling is developed from the general point of view, and from the specific point of view of injury suffered by the athletes in training or in competition.
Another provincial center for sports medicine was opened in Matanzas in 1980, with Armando Pancorbo serving as director, and Marcos Acebo and Oscar Ramirez as his assistants. This center included departments of physical development, physiotherapy, cardiovascular study, respiration, nursing, and stomatology. Rowing, baseball, boxing, weightlifting, and kayaking received special attention, although the center attends to all sports. The staff also worked closely with the EPEF to train future physical education instructors.
This emphasis upon highly scientific sports medicine is in direct imitation of the training methods used in East Germany and the Soviet Union, which in the more developed socialist countries have resulted in the marriage of an early and meticulous selection process to an individual training system based on intensive medical and physiological research. Nothing is left to chance. Muscles are monitored to show precisely which ones are to be warmed up prior to training and how this is to be done. Athletes strive for the Aperfect style in their sport, which has been determined through scientific analysis of the body's musculature and its movement through air or water. During training, blood tests are taken to determine the amount of lactic acid buildup that allows a trainer to know the athlete's precise level of exertion. Armed with this information, trainers know exactly how hard an athlete can push before he enters the gray area of overtraining, which leaves him susceptible to injury. This is the technological level to which the Cubans aspire, but the available evidence suggests that this goal has not yet been reached.
Once the Cubans achieve a high level of proficiency in a sport, they will work hard to maintain it. Athletes are evaluated constantly, through means such as the control referred to earlier. No one is ever allowed to think that he or she is irreplaceable, since there is always someone else further down the line being primed for the same position. At the EIDE Martires de Barbados, according to Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post, Aeach child is also measured, graphed, studied, coached against arbitrary performance standards that he is expected to meet.
These evaluations are not just limited to the area of sports. Athletes are expected to maintain high academic and political standards also. In Cuba, if one does not work or study, one cannot be an athlete. Some 95 percent of national athletes are students, and the simple rule is that they have to study. Pablo Velez gives the example of Richard Spencer, a national champion in the high jump and a medalist in the Central American Games who was prohibited from leaving Cuba to compete because he had not achieved the required grades. On the other hand, officials have said that to prevent an athlete such as Juantorena from competing because of grades would be counterproductive. Instead, upon returning from the contest, he would have to work harder to catch up.
Motivation and Incentives
There are also more practical motivating factors. Although it is true that Cuban athletes do not receive disproportionate wages that set them apart from the rest of society, they are given special consideration in many ways. A worker who is an athlete will be given time off from his job to train and to compete. His coworkers will take up the slack caused by his absence.
The case of Armando Capiro, former "outstanding athlete and one of our National Team's home run hitters," was described at length in the Cuban press. When the baseball season started, he was granted a "sports leave of absence" (an accepted procedure in Cuba) from his job as a technician at the Havana Psychiatric Hospital. He continued to receive his full salary. According to Silvio Borges:
This demands, however, that Capiro be a good worker because if not, there are problems. If he does not enjoy the respect and admiration of his co-workers and have a good work attitude, each time he asks for a sports leave the hospital director can say to us, "It seems that Capiro has not earned the privilege of participating in the national competition because his work attitude is very bad and his co-workers do not approve of his participation." The decision about his work attitude is made through the trade union organization by the workers who are there on the job with him. Any worker can object to an athlete's sports leave, "because we aren't willing to do what he isn't here to do." When an athlete is on leave his post must be covered by his co-workers because no extra personnel are assigned .... The opinion of the workers has enormous influence on an athlete, and this is positive because it helps shape an athlete in a well-rounded way and avoids sports professionalism. We want athletes to be involved in their jobs and improve their skills.
Extensive research, however, has not revealed any examples of fellow workers successfully vetoing the sports leave of absence of a major Cuban athlete. With the current closure or winding down of Cuban work centers now occurring, sports licenses may be even less likely to be revoked.
A student athlete, working toward a future profession, is paid during training and competition the salary that he will make when he begins a job in his chosen field. He is given the extra time necessary to complete his degree, such as six years instead of the usual four because of the required time off. In addition, whereas food is rationed throughout Cuban society (and ration lists are growing rapidly today), athletes from the EIDEs on up receive more and better quality food to adequately sustain them.
Medal winners from the major international contests are routinely flown home on special flights to be met personally at Jose Marti Airport by Fidel Castro, in much the same way that U.S. sports personalities are congratulated on their return by the president at the White House. The Cuban athletes, however, do not instantaneously earn $ 100,000 for saying, "I'm going to Disney World!" as have Mark Rypien, Michael Jordan, Doug Williams, Joe Montana, and other famous professional North American athletes. In addition, there are certain perquisites that come with international travel, such as the opportunity to buy goods that are unavailable to the rest of Cuban society. At the school level, the athlete's every, need is cared for, free, from toothbrushes to clothing.
To hear the Cubans tell it, however, the greatest motivation is political. According to Zulema Bregado Gutierrez, a Cuban gymnast who defected, "at least 30 minutes of political indoctrination is mandatory before every training session." Perhaps this is true. It is certainly true that political courses are required study in the schools, whether the school is a regular one, an EIDE or perhaps one for musicians or dancers. Judging from the comments made in public by athletes like juantorena or Stevenson, it is clear they have been well coached; they respond to questions with apparently stock, revolutionary slogans. But it is also true that life in Cuba is, in every way, much more political than life in the United States, Peru, or Australia, for example. Their critics state that Cuban athletes express no thoughts of their own. Such a charge, however, is hard to prove. Perhaps Stevenson really does believe his now-famous statement, "What is one million dollars compared to the love of eight million Cubans?" Surely Stevenson has had ample opportunity to defect and collect in the lucrative world of professional boxing, as have other athletes in other sports.
Essentially, all of Cuba's national athletes are products of the revolution, as they were quite young or not even born when it occurred. Several top-ranked athletes described their feelings:
Alberto Juantorena: Without the Revolution, I wouldn't have been able to be what I am. My victory in Montreal would never have been imagined; nor would there have been so numerous a Cuban delegation there. The people make it possible for athletes to go to the Olympics with their own work, with their dedication. And, we, in turn, dedicate the medals to the people. One thing is the result of the other. The Revolution is the same for both.
Third baseman Omar Linares, a member of the Poder Popular, has said that "we are not going to be overrun by the United States. We prefer to die in our country before we submit it. It doesn't matter if we eat eggs alone, we will be able to resist."
Aldo Allen Montalvo, specialist in the five and ten thousand meter events and the marathon (upon winning a 30K race in Managua, Nicaragua): I am aware of [the degree of training involved in the longer distances], and because of that, every day I practice with a passion, not only to please myself, but also to do my duty for Fidel, for the Party, for the Revolutionary Government, for my comrades and for my people .... I dedicate this victory to the people of Nicaragua and Cuba and to all of the countries of Latin America. I am proud for having participated in this marathon, for its significance celebrating the first anniversary of the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution.
Nancy Aldama Rulloba, gymnast: Everything I obtained in my sports career I owe to the Revolution which gave me all that was necessary to prove myself.
Joaquin Carlos Diaz, chess grand master: All that I am, I owe to the Revolution; I belong to the people and in another time I would have had to devote myself to searching for the means to guarantee subsistence for my family.
SUCCESS OF THE SYSTEM
The Modern Athlete
In order to judge the success or failure of the Cuban sports system, it is necessary to look at a number of indicators. One of these is the type of athlete INDER officials seek to develop; another is the kind of athlete that has actually emerged. According to Raudol Ruiz:
We do not aspire to have athletes like robots, or athletes who represent our country at the cost of their own alienation. We want men and women who represent this nation who can relate to other people educated in the revolutionary process, who are capable of feeling the Revolution as a natural feeling, not as something imposed and who are capable of defining the Revolution as a result of their own feelings. Moreover, they must acquire a cultural level which allows them to understand and evaluate what goes on in the world and be able to identify clearly its ideological framework. Further, they must have sufficient sophistication to recognize their own efforts and to value them. They should be able to converse with the trainers, doctors, psychologists, and not be just on the receiving end of orders. Only in this manner can we really obtain the kind of athlete who is revolutionary.
On top of this order, the Cubans absolutely insist that there are no stars or heroes. An individual athlete is singled out only when his performance has been extraordinary. In addition, the publishing of the technical aspects, such as rules and tips for playing, helps to demystify sports. This prevents sport from being the sole preserve of naturally talented individuals. Such a philosophy serves to greatly reinforce the Cuban government's commitment to mass participation. Ostensibly, this doses the gap between ordinary people playing for fun and health and Olympic gold medal winners.
There are seven principles that might comprise the Cuban philosophy of sport. According to Ron Pickering, they are also important indicators of the type of person the system produces:
So how do the Cubans rate on the type of individual they have developed? Enormously successful. As evidenced by some of the athletes quoted above, Cuba has produced an amazing blend of athlete and revolutionary. Indeed, a chance meeting with Alberto Juantorena in 1980 (four years after his successes in Montreal) provided a glimpse of this famous Cuban sports hero out of the limelight. He and his family were staying at the same hotel as one of the authors in his hometown of Santiago de Cuba. Repeated, random meetings consistently showed a self-assured but modest young man, who appeared to have a healthy perspective on his accomplishments. At no point was he ever mobbed by adoring fans, as certainly Michael Jordan would have been, in the United States. Rather, he was greeted occasionally by other Cubans as a friend whom one has not seen in some time.
- The best have to work with the less able at all times.
- The territory should be more important than the institution or the individual. No prima-donnas!
- The system works against the concentration of athletic power and in favor of mass participation, albeit in competition.
- Since everyone participates and sporting progress is linked to educational or work progress, it obviates excessive elitism since the best workers become the best athletes-not the worst workers becoming the best athletes. If you do not advance in studies and in work, you cannot participate in sport.
- No good athletes or teams are lost in the system. Constant motivation and search are encouraged.
- As soon as teams are selected (on merit rather than whim) there is immediate integration of factory, university, military unit, etc., which is politically and socially desirable.
- The system avoids recruitment by any one team or unit since no athlete is allowed to move from his home or job without priority being given to his vocational needs.
In the early stages of international competition, the Cuban representatives took themselves and their politics too seriously. Press articles and comments from U.S. opponents depicted Cuban sportsmen and women as being Aout for blood: The 1971 Pan-American Games were fraught with rumors about defections and the physical beating of a top sprinter who supposedly tried to defect. Domingo Gomez, a trainer for the Cubans, reportedly cried ADown with Fidel as he leapt to his death from the top of the Cuban building in Cali, Colombia. Another committed suicide in the village hospital. In addition, what began as a group of Canadians and North Americans stealing flags developed into a grand melee when the Cubans saw them take their flag and went after them. North American gymnast James Culhane supposedly had to be rescued from the Cubans by the U.S. water-polo team.
In another little-known incident, during the First Northern and Central American and Caribbean Cup Games, the procedure before each volleyball match was for the two teams about to compete to exchange gifts, usually pins representative of that country. The North American women discovered later in discussion that each of them had been stuck by the Cuban as she gave her the pin! Rumor had it that, to the Cubans, it was bad luck not to prick the receiver when giving a pin! But at these games, the Cuban women were reportedly extremely hostile. During the final match against Mexico, one Cuban in particular had to be physically restrained by her teammates to prevent her from attacking the referee for a call that favored the Mexicans.
Over the years, however, the Cubans seem to have grown in maturity and sophistication (although they are still susceptible to poor behavior when provoked, as at the Pan-American Games in Indianapolis, see chapter 6). The Cuban athlete of today is exemplified by the following incidents.
Upon returning from the seventh Pan-American Games, and representing the seventy women who participated, Carmen Romero spoke: "Comrade Fidel, we dedicate our medals with all our hearts to the First Party Congress, to the Cuban people and especially to you, who have always inspired us with your example. Fatherland or Death! We will win!" At the same meeting, Teofilo Stevenson spoke for all of the athletes:
As a demonstration of our admiration for you, of our respect, of our affection, of our recognition of your constant concern for sports and the happiness of the people; in the name of the Cuban sports movement, in the name of the Delegation that had the honor of representing the first socialist country in America in the VII Pan-American Games, I ask that you accept this medal, the final one, medal 119, with which we more than fulfilled the contracted agreement with you, with the Party, and with our people.
There are several athletes who epitomize the Cuban athlete. Considered by their countrymen as Apearls of the Antilles, it is instructive to look at them more closely. Alberto Juantorena and Teofilo Stevenson are probably the most famous. Beatriz Castillo, a sprinter, provides a second look at the world of Cuban track and field.
Among many other titles, Alberto Juantorena holds the distinction of being the only person to have won Olympic gold medals in both the 400- and the 800-meter races. Because of this accomplishment, he was voted Athlete of the Year in 1976. His name has become synonymous with Cuban sport. He is consistently described as modest, simple, affable, unaffected, open, and trusting.109 Born in 1951, he is married to a former gymnast and is the father of two children. Behind Fidel himself, he is one of the best spokesmen for the revolution. Upon returning from Montreal in 1976, on behalf of the Cuban delegation, he presented Castro with a plaque reading, "Fidel: We are a product of Moncada and Granma, so our successes are inspired by them and the determination of our people to win." To a crowd gathered in his honor, he gave a statement quite typical of others he has made as a representative of his country:
I want to thank the working people who have made it possible for Cuban sport to have been present in Montreal. My victory is not an isolated one. It is a victory of socialism, a system that has demonstrated itself to be superior. This reception is worth tracted to new sports, rather than the traditionally popular ones, a reasonable expectation especially for women. However, the continuation of traditional gender stereotypes, as well as the existence of people uninterested in sports, means that physical culture can be extended only to a given point, unless Cuba is able to transform such attitudes.
BASEBALL, THE NATIONAL PASTIME
In 1961, an intelligence analyst in the United States was studying aerial photographs taken over Cuba. He noticed a military camp. The usual soccer field had been marked off and some of the men were playing a game. Upon second thought, the analyst remembered that Cuban military installations always set up baseball diamonds, not soccer fields. With closer examination, the camp turned out to be Russian, set up to help install missiles in Cuba.
Contrary to popular belief, the tradition of baseball in Cuba precedes the American presence on the island. Both the Tainos Indians and the Siboney had games that were played with a bat and ball. The Siboney Indians called their game bolos. But with the arrival of the Americans came their form of the game, which became the most popular sport on the island and remained so even after the abolition of professionalism. Basketball comes second, and soccer is back in fifth place.138 In South America, kids travel the streets with a soccer ball at their feet, while in Cuba it is a bat and ball (or something equivalent) in their possession at all times, just in case there is a pick-up game.
Baseball in Cuba is more than a pastime, it is an obsession. According to Sigfredo Barros, a sportswriter for the newspaper Granma, "Baseball is not our national sport. It's our national passion. It's our love: There are baseball diamonds everywhere." Play is year round, although top-level play is tied closely to the other important season on the island, sugar. Fidel has said that "Baseball helps the harvest; it is tied to the heart of our economy." Over half a million Cubans play organized baseball in one form or another. The rest participate as "active spectators." According to Wilfredo Sanchez, the right fielder for the Matanzas team, "After every game, I have nine and a half million people waiting outside the stadium who want to explain to me, for the good of Cuba, what I did wrong."
In 1874, the first baseball stadium in Cuba, Palmar de Junco, was inaugurated in Matanzas. Today, this stadium is a museum to the sport. The first game was played there on 27 December 1874, and Havana defeated the home team 51-9. Havana's left fielder was Emilio Sabourin, who helped to organize the country's first professional league in 1878. He died in 1897 in the Spanish prison, Castillo del Hacha, during the Cuban War for Independence.
Cuban baseball has traveled a long road since 1874. Along the way, the sport has seen some legendary players develop, most of whom migrated to the professional leagues in North America. There were people such as Esteban Enrique Bellan (the first Latin American to play in the United States), Adolfo Luque, Martin Dihigo, Camilo Pascual, Minnie Minoso, Conrado AConnie Marrero, Dagoberto ABert Campaneris, Rigoberto ATito Fuentes, Tony Oliva, Mike Gonzales, Tony Perez, Mike Cuellar, Luis Tiant, Tony Taylor, Jose Cardenal, Pedro Ramos, and Cookie Rojas. Many of these players are worth special mention. Those who came before the revolution such as Martin Dihigo, Adolfo Luque, and Minnie Minoso have been highlighted elsewhere (see chapter 2).
There have been many others who came later, and Mike Cuellar was one of these. As was the case with so many other Cubans, Cuellar first pitched in a sugar-mill amateur league and during a stint in the Cuban army. He was spotted by Bobby Maduro and signed with the Havana Sugar Kings. He started with a bang in 1957, then followed the Sugar Kings to New Jersey in 1961. Again, as with so many Cuban players, he hit a bad slump, but Maduro remained confident: "Cuellar's going to be just like [Orlando] Pena and like a lot of other Cuban players. They all do well at the start of their careers, then slump for three or four years, then come back stronger than ever."
Cuellar moved around from team to team for several years with a mixed record. In 1968, he was traded to Baltimore. In 1969 he went 23-11 and won the Cy Young Award. That same year, he opened the 1969 World Series for the Orioles, pitching a six-hitter to beat the Mets 4-1. Even though the Mets beat the Orioles in five games, Cuellar was the most effective pitcher of the Series, with 13 strikeouts and a 1.13 ERA. Cuellar bested himself the next year, leading the American League in wins (24-8), starts (40), complete games (21), and winning percentage (.750). In the last game of the 1970 World Series, Cuellar held Cincinnati scoreless for eight innings. As Cuban Dolf Luque had done 37 years before for the New York Giants, Cuellar was on the mound for the final out to gain the world championship for his team. All told, between 1969 and 1976, Cuellar won 143 games for Baltimore:
Cuellar was the major leagues' best Latin left-handed pitcher. He had a career .587 winning percentage, with 185 wins and 130 losses, a 3.14 ERA, and 36 shutouts. For six years he teamed with Dave McNally and Jim Palmer to make up the best pitching staff in baseball.
Dagoberto Blanco Campaneris
Another Cuban star from the same era was Dagoberto Blanco Campaneris. His father worked in a rope factory and had been a catcher in his youth. Campaneris was playing in a tournament in Costa Rica with a semipro team when the Bay of Pigs invasion took place in 1961. Then and there, he and teammate Tito Fuentes were signed by Felix Delgado for the Kansas City A's. They were able to leave Cuba just before Castro closed the borders in 1962. That same year, "the ambidextrous Campaneris" pitched two innings, left-handed to the lefty batters and right-handed to the right-handed hitters. He struck out four and gave up only one run. Campaneris also played the outfield, all infield positions, and catcher in 1962.
Campaneris debuted in the majors in 1964 against Minnesota and homered off the first pitch, only the second player in history to do so. In his fourth at bat, he homered again. In 1965, reminiscent of Martin Dihigo, he became the first major-league player to play all nine positions in the same game. When the As moved to Oakland in 1967, their record (and Campaneris's career) took off. He led the league in stolen bases six times, was named to the All-Star team five times, and was with the A's for three straight World Series victories. He finished with a .259 average.
Like so many other Cuban ball players of the time, Atanasio Rigal "Tony" Perez also played on a sugar-factory team and went professional just before the borders closed in 1962. He signed with the Cincinnati Reds in 1960 when he was just seventeen years old. He experienced the same slow start as so many other Cubans and began to shine in 1967, when he helped the National League All-Star Team to victory. That year, he was voted the Reds' Most Valuable Player and finished with a .290 average, 26 home runs, and 102 runs batted in.
Pedro Oliva was one of ten children from a family in Pinar del Rio, Cuba. When Joe Cambria heard about him, he gave him the airfare to come and try out in the United States. When he could not find his passport, he borrowed his brother Antonio's passport and thus became Tony Oliva. Six days after he left, the Bay of Pigs invasion started, and Tony Oliva became the last Cuban to be signed by Joe Cambria. Minnesota called him up from the minors after he started to hit in 1963. In 1964 he established a rookie hit record with 217 and is the only American League rookie to win a batting title (.323). He also led in doubles and runs scored.145 He led Minnesota to the pennant in 1965 and the American League in hits five times through 1970. After several injuries, Oliva began managing in the winter leagues in Mexico and Colombia. He coached in the minors and has been instrumental in developing young players, most notably Kirby Puckett.
Luis Tiant, Jr.
Against both his mother's wishes and the advice of his father, Luis Tiant, Jr., was determined to follow in his father's cleats. Luis "Lefty" Tiant, Sr., had been "one of the finest spitball pitchers in the Negro leagues." The talent of Luis Jr. was first spotted by Cleveland Indians scout Bobby Avila in 1959. In his major league debut against the Yankees in 1964, Tiant allowed only three hits and struck out eleven. His big year was 1968, when he threw four consecutive shutouts and in three other games struck out forty-one batters, a new record.
In 1972, with the Boston Red Sox, Luis Jr. led the American League with a 1.91 ERA and a 15-6 record. In August 1975, Fidel Castro allowed Tiant's parents to leave Cuba. Lefty Tiant threw out the first ball during a game, as the Boston fans roared their approval. Boston went on to win the pennant, with Tiant shutting out Cincinnati 6-0 in the first game of the Series. But Cincinnati won the Series 4-3. The elder Tiants died after the 1976 season.
Luis played several more years and finished his career in 1982 with a 229-172 record, 49 shutouts, 2,416 strikeouts, and four 20-win seasons.
American Baseball in Cuba
With the revolution came the abolition of professional baseball in 1962. If anything, the change strengthened the Cuban game. The better players stopped migrating north, and from 1963 to 1991, Cuba has won every gold medal for baseball in the Pan-American Games-except one, in 1987, when they were beaten by the U.S. team led by Jim Abbott, who went on to pitch in the major leagues for the California Angels and the New York Yankees.
The Castro government has clearly been supportive of the expansion of baseball. In 1971, Gran Stadium was upgraded to Estadio Latinoamericano, with a 55,000-seat capacity, which was 20,000 more than before. In Matanzas, a new 30,000-seat stadium was built near the original Palmar de Junco, one of nine stadiums in Cuba with a capacity over 20,000. It was named Estadio Victoria de Gir6n, to commemorate the Cuban victory over the United States at the Bay of Pigs.
It is ironic that the game remains the common denominator between Cuba and the United States (baseball is not something that Cubans could share with the socialist brotherhood). As Don Miguel Cuevas-perhaps the greatest living baseball hero in Cuba-said, "The Russians have yet to come up with a good left-handed hitter." Unfortunately, the political situation allows Cuba and the United States to share only the memories of baseball in days gone by. Even today, the most influential American players in Cuba are probably Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle, who were featured in the last training films that were shipped to Cuba before relations were severed. It is the era of Williams and Mantle that is remembered by the older Cubans now coaching the younger players, and about which they reminisce.
It has been said that "Cuba has two distinct baseball generations: that which remembers and that which does not." Those who have grown up with the revolution can say with conviction that they have no interest in the U.S. major leagues. Nothing of American baseball is reported on Cuban television, on the radio, or in the press. But for those over forty years old, sometimes it seems they remember too much. The life he led as a pitcher for the Washington Senators brings back fond memories for Connie Marrero. And the memories are recalled in infinite detail, made more vivid by the decades of being rehashed, with others who also remember.
Cuban baseball fans are a blend of all ages and colors, but predominantly of only one gender. The most interesting group of affcionados is the older men who, during the entire game, talk of nothing but old-time baseball. Some of these discussions become rather high-spirited (to put it mildly), as the men discuss vintage American baseball, including the Negro leagues and obscure players from the 1930s. Although it is almost a point of honor to display a complete lack of interest in North American baseball, there is still an enormous amount of information that is circulated, especially when it is almost all by word of mouth. A South Dakotan traveling through Cuba on a basketball tour was shocked to meet a Cuban who knew that Ken Griffey of the Cincinnati Reds once played minor-league ball for Sioux Falls, for example. The attitude toward the major leagues is clearly ambivalent. It is a love-hate relationship, and its symbol is perhaps a "nervous, wizened gentlemen" named Edel Casas. Casas keeps himself and everyone else in Cuba abreast of the "Great Leagues" by daily visiting the Agence France Presse and through an information column he used to write for Listos Para Vencer:
No American trivia expert could surpass Casas on the genuinely trivial. He knows the date of every well-known American baseball happening from Johnny Vander Meer's nohitters to how many thirds of an inning Walter Johnson pitched in the World Series of 1924 and 1925 . . . .
This "tangled fascination" and antipathy for the Great Leagues often takes the form of a strong desire for the chance at one game against the "Yanquis" (not necessarily the New York variety). Lazaro Perez, now in his early fifties, reached his peak in the early 1960s, He caught for the Cuban national team for decades, the same team that has won all the gold medals but one at the PanAmerican Games since 1967. AI never want to sell myself for money, but I have waited for years to play against the professionals. Although the Cuban players insist they are uncomfortable discussing their market value, they still brag about it. Manuel Zayas of INDER claimed that "the Japanese have offered millions for [Omar] Linares." At a tournament in Edmonton in 1985, when Linares was only seventeen, the Toronto Blue Jays offered him a contract that would have allowed him to play only home games, thereby not having to travel to the United States. He turned them down.
AMcNeely's bad-hop hit struck a famous pebble, Casas is told . . . . "Was that pebble in front of first, second, or third base?"
Casas seems justifiably hurt by such a sneaky, such a trivial question. "Second base," he says tentatively. And, of course, incorrectly.
"Marvelous," he is told. "That's right."
The little middle-aged man relaxes. His performance cannot trip him up in front of his superiors.
"I want very much for the United States and Cuba to have an exchange of games," he says. "You see, I have never seen an American Great League game with my own eyes."
In 1977, Fidel Castro invited an all-star team from the United States to come and play against the Cubans. The deal fell through. Castro then invited the Yankees to play in Havana. The trip was canceled by the U.S. State Department because of "Cuba's involvement" in Angola. Bill Veeck, owner of the Chicago White Sox, went to Cuba to scout talent and to attempt some "ping-pong diplomacy." Even an exhibition match in Mexico between the Seattle Mariners and a Cuban team was aborted.
If the best of the United States and the best of Cuba were to play against each other, it certainly would be an interesting match. Isolated by the revolution, baseball in Cuba has developed differently from the game in the United States. The most obvious weakness is the pitching. Most Cuban pitchers lack variety. They are junk-ball specialists, throwing mainly fastballs and sidearm curves. Certainly, contact with the technically superior North American leagues could improve the quality of the game. That the Cubans want no part of it is hard for those involved with U.S. baseball, such as Preston Gomez (a Dodger coach and a Cuban), to understand:
Baseball is the only sport there is where the players don't have the opportunity to compete with those better than they are .... Those players reach a certain age, and then they stand still. They don't make progress. They have several players there that, if they had had the opportunity five or six years ago to come to the States would be playing in the big leagues now. Irrelevant, say the Cubans. "We have our game," says Las Villas First Baseman Antonio Munoz, "and you have yours."
On the plus side, Cuban baseball is characterized by tremendous talent: "speed, recklessness, superb defense, and fascination with rules and strategy." And this fascination with rules and strategy is as true of the fans as of the players and managers. "After all, this nation worships subtlety in its baseball. Marrero was once given a standing ovation for his windup. The crowd was on it feet cheering Marrero's head-bobbing gyrations before he ever released the pitch." But subtlety is not enough by itself. All the wonderful windups in the world will not satisfy Cuban fans in a 1-0 pitchers' duel. They leave. Cuban fans will take nothing less than pure excitement with scoring, stealing, and strategy.
In post-revolutionary Cuba, it is easier to leave early than it was before the revolution. The fans are not sacrificing their entrance fee, because there is none. Admission to all games is free, on a first-come-first-served basis. And in Cuba, all foul balls are returned; there is even an extra official to collect the returned balls. This is one example of what appears to be a truly cooperative effort (unknown in the United States since perhaps World War II). And there are other differences, especially in contrast with the USSR. Crowd behavior is impeccable. Although they are ready at the drop of a bat to show disapproval for a bonehead play, the crowd, players, and officials treat each other with the utmost respect. On all sides, anger is as subdued as is humanly possible, and all this without a policeman in sight. The umpire is in total control of the game. The violence in the stands that was so common in the 1950s is now gone:
Cuba's top hitter, Wilfredo Sanchez, was once called out by a Ablind umpire in Matanzas when he was safe by a yard, leaped high in the air, spun around and made the psychic transformation from complete disbelief and fury to resigned composure before he returned to the earth. He walked off the field without any show of displeasure except that four-foot vertical catapult when he first saw the umpire's thumb ....
The continual arguments in the stands are confined to a level out of earshot of those on the field. The freest speech in Cuba can be heard at the corner of Paseo de Marti and San Rafael in Havana where dozens of men hotly discuss every aspect of the game and its players. Often, the arguments seem to be about a game that was played two or three decades earlier, rather than the one in progress at the time. In addition, in order to help people "think collectively," Cuban sportswriters are not supposed to use personal nicknames, a practice that supposedly emphasized the importance of the individual over the team. In the stands, however, it is hard to discover the real names of the players for the number of nicknames used.
Cuban ballparks may be the only ones in the hemisphere that combine rabid partisanship, ferocious noise and umpire baiting with a sense of total personal security.
The crowd has its right to yell, "We are being robbed" and "We are playing nine against thirteen." But when the ump has heard enough, he calmly raises a hand like a school principal and the sound turns off like a faucet. It is an impressive and somewhat unnerving sight.
Although in many ways, baseball seems to be the least political of Cuba's sports, the revolution is never far from view. The stadiums themselves are a testimony to it:
The Estadio [Latinoamericano in Havana] itself is really two ball parks, pre- and post-revolution. The 46-year-old covered grandstand has been gussied up with fresh paint and new seats. The outfield sections were completed in 19'71 by volunteer labor, the product of revolutionary sporting fervor. The whole 25,000 old seats, 30,000 new-looks as if it is one part Comiskey Park and one part Riverfront Stadium. The hybrid is Cuba's largest stadium, an impressive structure for all the commingling. The outfield fences are somewhat closer to the plate than in most major league parks-325 feet at the foul lines, 345 in the power alleys and 400 to dead center-but the air is heavy and balls do not seem to carry well. The fences are painted a subdued green, unblemished, of course, by advertising signs, there being none in Cuba. However, the foul poles are lighted for night games, an innovation the big leagues would do well to consider. The electric scoreboard does not transmit quizzes and cartoons, nor does it welcome the Kiwanis from Matanzas, but it does list the batting orders and advise the fans of each hitter's average.
Fans go to see the game and to talk to each other rather than to partake of the hoopla that characterizes American baseball. And they do so sober. "Baseball is thought to be sufficient inebriation for any Cuban." Base paths are swept by "middle-aged groundskeepers" in coveralls rather than by "nubile teenagers in hot pants." In fact, the game itself tends to be much shorter, seldom over two hours. "The single-deck stadium" offers no advertising [besides a few pro-revolution billboards], no ushers, no concessionaires, no hawkers, no panty-hose night, no exploding scoreboards, no inessential public address announcements.
The players on the field are conspicuously shorthaired and clean shaven. And they all are amateurs who show a marked disdain for professionalism. They must arrange for time off from their jobs or their studies to train and to play. The workplace or university must approve their leave of absence. The players continue to draw their regular pay or stipends. Their schedule more closely resembles the barnstorming teams of the 1930s, more so than the major or minor leagues of today. They play more than a hundred games a season on regional teams, sleeping in stadium dormitories as they travel. Conditions are worse than those in the lowest minor leagues in the United States. For the play itself, they say they do it for "pride, patriotism, incalculable public adoration, and government fringe benefits."
But there are apparently some attractive perquisites. According to one recent source, players are free from food-rationing and from harvest-season drafts. They also have access to the very best coaches, doctors, and psychologists outside the U.S. major leagues. Don Miguel Cuevas says that it is because of baseball that he has a home, furnishings, a TV, a Russian car, and most important to him, a diploma. Until 1964, he had only a seventh-grade education. In 1977, he became a PE instructor. His diploma is rivaled only by a scroll, personally signed by Fidel, that commemorates his retirement from baseball in 1974, after twenty years of distinguished play, the only such scroll ever awarded a Cuban baseball player.
Although in some ways the Dominicans have replaced the Cubans on the Caribbean baseball circuit, the island remains the source of the highest caliber of play. A professional team in Mexico, the Sultanes, recently hired several Cuban instructors and a sports physician, including pitching coach Julio Romero. The Sultanes went on to break a twenty-nine-year losing streak by winning the national championship. These support staff (unlike the players) are free to work outside Cuba, but their earnings go to the state. More than 100 Cuban coaches and sports doctors are working in Spain, Italy, Venezuela, Mexico, and Nigeria, mostly with amateur organizations. Indeed, when the Sultanes went into a recent slump, they brought back a Cuban sports psychologist.
Despite its very recent elevation to Olympic status, baseball has always enjoyed an equal place in the EIDEs. X65 In 1977, Augusto Fonseca, senior baseball coach at the Havana Province EIDE, said that the twenty-five students were chosen from over two thousand boys from throughout the province. These athletes, aged between eleven and thirteen, had daily three-hour afternoon training sessions. Held at the former Havana Yacht Club, the practices included slalom runs around the palm trees, which supposedly simulate weaving around opponents while running bases. Like all other student athletes, if they do not keep up their academic grades, they are ineligible for competition.
Cuban Political Refugees
There is, of course, another side to the baseball story: the counterrevolutionaries. In 1980, Johnny Carson made the comment that "Bowie Kuhn [then Baseball Commissioner] isn't worried about the baseball players going on strike. He's got 65,000 replacements who just got to Miami ready to step in." He was referring to the wave of Cuban refugees who had just arrived in Florida during the "Mariel boatlift." It was a joke, of course, but one that was lost on many of the people in question, such as Julio Soto, Eduardo Cajuso, and Julio Rojo. These men were members of the "Free Cuban Baseball Team," which was formed from the more than ten thousand refugees at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. They had left their families and their pasts in a quest for their lifelong dream: a shot at the Major Leagues. According to Cajuso, "I would give my left arm to play in the major leagues. All I've ever dreamed of is playing in the big circus. I would only ask for my right arm and my legs so I could play well."
These men lived and breathed baseball. Soto says, "Every year at Christmas, I got the same present from my parents: a new baseball uniform. It was all I ever wanted." Rojo inherits his love for the game from his father, who played in the old Negro leagues for a team called the New York Cubans.
Their story smacks of politics, however. They were all prohibited from playing ball in Cuba because they were anti-Castro. This is certainly consistent with INDER's demands on Cuban athletes in the realms of sports, academics, work, and politics. The refugees claim that baseball players are second-rate compared to the other athletes, because the game cannot be exported for political purposes as can the Olympic sports. However, in 1992, baseball became an official Olympic sport. Contrary to what INDER and most of the Cuban players say, the refugees think that Cuban boys consider the Cuban leagues only a stopping point on their way to the Great Leagues. Although the first goal of these men is to make the majors, the second goal is political. "Someday, I want to go back to Cuba and play on the exhibition tour. I want to show people what a free Cuban can do, given the chance. I want to go back and prove what they wouldn't let me prove before." They admit that the only reason they came to the United States was to play baseball. And at first it seemed as if they would get their chance. Within seventy-two hours of the refugees' arrival, the Cincinnati Reds had two scouts there. They were there until Commissioner Kuhn said the Cubans could not be recruited until their status was established.
One "Marielito" who came closest to the Major Leagues is Barbaro Garbey, the designated hitter on the 1976 Cuban national team, and the first Cuban in over twenty years to break into major-league baseball. In 1982, Granma reported that a group of top players and coaches were banned from the game and the record books for accepting bribes to fix games in Cuba. One of these was Barbaro Garbey. Despite this, Garbey was signed by the Detroit Tigers within days of arriving in this country. He batted .364 in his first season and starred on Detroit's AAA farm club in 1982. He was placed on probation after the Miami Herald reported Garbey's acknowledgment of game fixing in Cuba. "I know I did right, because I had to do it [to feed my family]. A lot of people say it was wrong. I still say it was right." Although he continued to play well with a .321 average, he was suspended after allegedly striking a rival fan with a bat. He continues to play professional ball in Mexico.
A Cuban may try to forget many things about his country to protect himself from the pain of his own memories, but he will not forget baseball. It is in his blood, and he wants to pass it on to his sons. American coaches in the Miami area have had to adjust to the intense involvement of the entire Cuban American family in the game played by the sons and beloved by the fathers.
If you've got ten native Americans on a team maybe three of them will have fathers who played baseball seriously. But if you have ten Cuban-Americans on a team, probably nine of them have fathers who have played. They're very involved. They never miss a game.
Cuban parents tend to be over-protective and over-involved. And the Cuban kids are less likely to defy their parents than are their American counterparts. The parents do not want the boys involved in any other sport but baseball, not even the weightlifting required to gain hitting power (the lack of which is a well-known Cuban weakness).
Sometimes you'll work with a kid on something for hours, trying to get him to do it a certain way. You'll get it down, then send him home. The next day they come back doing it differently. You ask them why. They tell you they've been working with their fathers.
And it is not just the fathers. Although Danny Tartabull's father, Jose, played nine seasons in the majors (he is now a hitting instructor in the minors), Danny's mother is the one he calls Little General:
Tartabull's mother cooked him steak for lunch almost every day because, she told him, if he was going to be a ballplayer he had to eat right. She saw to it that Danny made it to high school safely by driving him to the front door in the morning, and she was there to pick him up again at the end of the day, even though the school was only three blocks from the Tartabull's home. Danny never walked, not once.
In one way, the overemphasis on the game has worked. The large Cuban American population has produced several major-league players, such as Jose Canseco, Danny Tartabull, Rafael Palmeiro, and Nelson Santovenia, three of whom played on the same Little League team in Miami. Phil Philbina Philadelphia Phillies scout-coached an American Legion team that, for over twelve years, was all Cuban; Ralph Davis-baseball coach at Miami High School for more than twenty-eight years-has not coached a non-Cuban player in over ten years. No one else was good enough to survive the last cut to eighteen players.
In another way, the overemphasis has not worked. There are not nearly the number of Cuban Americans in the big leagues as many people have expected, and the reasons are many. First, before the revolution and the great exodus to the United States, there were eight million Cubans to choose from, and now there are only about eighty thousand refugees living in the United States. Second, Cubans are said to peak very early, at fifteen or sixteen, because they play no other sports, and they just never improve after that. Third, it could be prejudice. The stereotypical Cuban player is quick, small, not a power hitter, and according to Ralph Davis, black. Fourth, the motivation is certainly different here than it ever was in Cuba. On the island, there is nothing but baseball. Here, there are many other distractions, from further education, to other sports, to cars and easily available entertainment.
In an attempt to overcome what many Cuban Americans consider Asub-Cuban baseball, there has developed in the Miami area a system of baseball schools. All 15 of these are Cuban-run. Almost all of the students are Cuban Americans, from the ages of five to fifteen. One is the Academia Pascual, run by Carlos (Camilo Pascual's brother) and his son Juan. Carlos is in his early sixties. This man's life is, literally, baseball. When he is not at the school with the 250 athletes, which is held 50 Saturdays a year, he is a scout for the Baltimore Orioles. In the winter, he manages a Venezuelan team.
Talent Scouts in Cuba
More recently, it seems, the Major Leagues are not waiting until Cuban refugees arrive on U.S. shores. Scouts are already visiting Cuba regularly, in an attempt to get to know the best players, for when and if they are allowed to leave. The defection to the United States before the Pan-American Games in July 1991 of Rene Arocha, a pitcher from the Cuban national team, raised the hopes for such a prospect even higher. Yet many Cubans doubt that others will follow. According to Pablo Gutierrez Veliz, the team psychologist, "Few would take that step. No one travels as a prisoner in bondage. It is what they travel without that makes the difference." Arocha left behind his twenty-year-old wife and an eight-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.
According to Arocha, "Everybody [the Cuban athletes] wants to play here because they think they are wasting their time in Cuba." After pitching for the Louisville Redbirds, the AAA team for the St. Louis Cardinals, for two seasons, Arocha recently made his debut with the Cardinals. Yet, despite Arocha's treachery, even Cuban Baseball Commissioner Domingo Zabala is ambivalent about him. In one breath he declares him a "traitor to Cuban baseball" and says "it is as if he died at birth." The next moment he asks how he is doing.
The lack of friendly relations between the United States and Cuba forces scouts to be creative about making Cuban contacts. They took advantage of the 1991 Pan-American Games to make further contacts. Frank Wren, formerly the Montreal Expo's Latin American scouting supervisor and now with the Miami Marlins, visited Cuba under the sponsorship of the Cuban Baseball Federation. Because U.S. Treasury Department regulations prohibit spending money in Cuba, Wren was asked if the Federation was paying his expenses. "Well, they make it easy for me, let's put it that way . . . . I'd really not like to get into the specifics of it." On the other hand, Los Angeles Dodger scout Mike Brito has traveled to Cuba three times in the last six years as a guest of Mexico's national baseball team, not technically as a Dodger scout. "It's very tough because we American citizens have to get a special permit from Washington. But because I go with the Mexican team, it's easy for me." He already has four hot prospects: Omar Linares, Antonio Pacheco, German Mesa, and Lazaro Valle.
The U.S. teams are counting on the economic situation in Cuba to force Castro's hand until he allows Cuban players to leave. (Stranger things have happened. Former Soviet athletes are now playing in the National Hockey League, for example.) According to Brian Sabean, the New York Yankees' vice-president for scouting, "Castro needs dollars and he needs favorable publicity to deflect his problems." And Castro knows that athletes are one of his resources. The Cuban team has won nine world amateur championships since 1969. If the doors were opened, some say that "Cuba would one day surpass the Dominican Republic as the leading producer of major league talent from Latin America." According to Mike Brito, who discovered Fernando Valenzuela in Mexico, "If they ever come over to the U.S., there's going to be a Cuban player on every team."
Indeed, the Rene Arocha case is an interesting one. His defection on 10 July 1991 was apparently facilitated by Manuel Hurtado, a former Cuban pitching coach who had defected some years earlier. "[Defecting] was easy. All I had to do was find an exit sign." Hurtado had a car waiting for him.
Hurtado had arranged tryouts for Arocha. Eight teams were interested in him so a special lottery was held; St. Louis was the name pulled out of the hat. In his first season in the Triple A league, Arocha went 12-7 with a 2.7 ERA in 25 starts. He came to the United States with the reputation of being the fourth best pitcher in Cuba. Major league scouts are anxious to see the other three.
Like most other Cuban athletes, baseball players claim they play solely for the love of the game and of the revolution. Yet if given the opportunity to leave, most Cuban athletes would abandon socialist slogans and go, according to Rene Arocha:
Of course they say they're not playing for money because that's true. You can't be playing for money when you're hardly making any. I earned 230 pesos a month [about $300 at the official rate of exchange], and nobody on the team has a car, not even the older players. And, yes, the players complain about these things-privately, of course.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, members of the national team were allowed to buy a car, at a discount, upon retirement. But now, even that option has been removed. In 1990, coaches and directors were given a Soviet Lada car, but not the players.
Preston Gomez, the California Angels' executive and a former major-league manager and Washington Senator, is a long-time acquaintance of Castro's, a well-known figure from pre-revolutionary Cuba, and one of the four hundred Cubans signed by Joe Cambria. To Gomez, the defection of Arocha may be the long-awaited "foot in the door." When someone defects, the whole country knows about it. Outside of Fidel Castro and a few comandantes, baseball players are the best-known people on the island.
My feeling is Castro will allow his baseball players to turn pro next year after they try to win a gold medal at the Olympics in Barcelona. . . because the economic situation in Cuba is so bad. You know what breaks my heart? When I go to Cuba and these former Cuban players come up to me and they want a pair of socks. Or they have a daughter and she needs a dress. . The heat is on. Fidel Castro is struggling. So, before long, I believe he will be forced to open up everything, including baseball.
If the gates were opened, scouts would be eyeing prospects such as third baseman Omar Linares, left fielder Orestes Kindelan, second baseman Antonio Pacheco, and shortstop German Mesa.
SPORTS AND POLITICS
Cuba has been accused of making sport an instrument of politics. Castro does not deny that sport is political; it is almost as if he were accused of being Latin American. Why deny it? Instead, he merely tries to clarify the Cuban position.
Really, it is just the other way around. Politics is an instrument of sports. That is, sport is not a means, but rather an end, like every other human activity, every other activity that has to do with man's well-being, just as education, health, material living conditions, human dignity, feeling, and man's spiritual values are all the objectives of politics.
To the Cubans, politics or the revolution exist to serve the ends of the people, that is, to serve all human activity. Sport is merely one of those activities.
Scientists say that it is healthy to exercise. Desirous of a more fit population, the developed countries like the United States, Australia, and Great Britain have for several decades tried to encourage people to get out and practice some sport, to exercise. The results have been less than overwhelmingly successful. Cuba, on the other hand, seems to have succeeded where these countries have failed. "State monopoly works wonders in sports, whatever its shortcomings in other fields."
Cuba's successes in the development of sport have to be located in the political and social context in which they occur. It is impossible to understand one without looking at the other. Sport is an important part of the Cuban culture available to all and, at the same time, a means of asserting Cuba's independence and evidence of the tangible successes that have been made in other spheres.
With the revolution came the task of restructuring Cuban society. For at least the first decade, until the new system was well on its way, policy was directed toward implementing change, rather than maintaining the status quo. After the early 1970s, the aim of the revolutionary government became to secure the new radical status quo. Just how far did Cuban society have to travel to get from the old system to the new one imposed from above by the revolutionary government? Jorge Dominguez, a professor at Harvard University and a long-time observer of Cuba, provides an intriguing view of Cuban political culture, both old and new, and of the relationship between the two. The topic is beyond the scope of this book, although it does have pertinent policy implications:
Socialism found fertile soil in Cuba. Participation, cooperation, approval of government intervention, and political awareness are none of them new to Cuba. While not all socialist values are equally consistent with prerevolutionary attitudes and while opposition and resistance to change did occur, many socialist goals found their echo in Cuban traditions. Much of the prerevolutionary political culture continues into the revolutionary era, quite in harmony with the aims of the new government.
Sport is one of these Anovel revolutionary forms, and such novelty, especially in the form of baseball, may be the salve to smooth and soothe the scars left by years of hostility between the United States and Cuba.
The persistence of the past and the changes that occurred independent of any policy decisions made by the ruling elite suggest that individuals retained a more substantial degree of autonomy in belief and behavior than would have been allowed in a genuinely totalitarian state. The Cuban revolutionary government has extraordinary powers; it curtails the freedom of action of organizations and of individuals to a far greater extent than any of its predecessors had ever attempted. Yet, in part through the resilience of its citizens, not everything has changed that the government wanted changed, and some things have changed in spite of opposition from the government. The processes that account for change in Cuba are primarily related to modernization but have also resulted quite generally from the experience of the revolution itself, at times changing structures unexpectedly; these processes often begin outside government policy and are likely to remain independent of it.
Although the past has not faded entirely and has helped to shape the present, the extent of the change is substantial, most , of it in the direction of modern socialist values. There is more variation within the political culture than had existed before the revolution; Cuban citizens may now hold rather sharply differentiated political values. This cultural heterogeneity may become a new source of tension between government and society in the decades ahead.
If the coming of a socialist revolution to Cuba was not inevitable, the spread of socialist values, though also not inevitable, is less surprising. Government intervention was already extensive before the revolution and prepared the way for the state that burgeoned after it. Political participation, an essential part of Cuban revolutionary politics, is not new to Cuba either, although it has taken novel revolutionary forms.
"Popular Participation Under Fidel" and "Cuban Sport in the 1980s and 1990s" are from SPORT IN CUBA: THE DIAMOND IN THE
ROUGH, by Paula Pettavino and Geralyn Pye, c 1994. All rights are
controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15261.
Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.