Latin America & Caribbean

Cuban baseball players who defected to US visit Havana

Cuban MLB player Alexei Ramirez shows a magazine before a press conference at the National Hotel in Havana, on December 15, 2015 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Alexei Ramirez has become a star in the US as well as his native Cuba

Four Cuban baseball stars who defected to work in the United States have been reunited with their relatives on a return trip to Havana.

Friends and fans welcomed them back for a three-day goodwill tour.

During the presidency of Fidel Castro, Cubans who defected to the US to play Major League Baseball were banned from returning.

The players remain banned from Cuba's national team despite recent improvements in US-Cuban relations.

'No rancour'

BBC Havana correspondent Will Grant says the players' visit is the latest step in the quickening thaw between the US and Cuba as sports, the arts and science become some of the most straightforward arenas in which the old enemies can foster bilateral co-operation.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Los Angeles Dodgers player Yasiel Puig hugged his former coach

Jose Abreu and Alexei Ramirez of the Chicago White Sox, St Louis Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena and Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers received an enthusiastic welcome.

Many Cuban fans were disappointed to see some of their most successful sporting heroes leave the Communist-run island.

But they also followed their progress in Major Baseball League and noted with pride how some were snatched up by wealthy US teams.

Our correspondent says there was little sign of any rancour at the reunion with the multi-millionaire players embracing old colleagues and coaches.

The players, too, were visibly emotional.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Brayan Pena was thrilled to be reunited with his 85-year-old grandmother

While strict controls on baseball stars leaving the island have been relaxed in recent years, some of those making their return visit had gone to extraordinary lengths to leave Cuba.

Yasiel Puig paid people smugglers to take him by speedboat to Mexico, from where he made his way overland to Texas in 2012.

He was banned from returning until Cuba granted him a special permission for this trip.

"I'm very happy to be here," he told fans gathered at the Hotel Nacional.

During their three-day visit, the players will hold youth clinics and US baseball executives will hold talks with Cuban sports officials.

Related Topics

More on this story