A fortnight ago, as Fidel Castro dispatched Cuba's mighty 280-man delegation to the Ninth Central American and Caribbean Games in Kingston, Jamaica, he gave it some fatherly advice. His 30-minute harangue, much of it preposterous, had a theme of dark foreboding.
"There will be women in Kingston who will try to seduce you," said Castro in his cheerless pep talk. "There will be people who will try to put marijuana in your coffee. There will be people who try to kidnap you. If there is any demonstration from exiles you must be ready to fight for the honor of Cuba." The team's mission, Castro said, was to win, and by winning to demonstrate that socialism is a superior system to capitalism. His advice—and unpublicized instructions to his subordinates—effectively assured the unscheduled and often perilous events which marred both the spirit and function of the Games and the celebration of Jamaica's independence.
To insure that Cuba would triumph on the playing fields, her finest athletes were brought together months before the Games in regimented training camps, where they were given a special diet—milk three times a day and beef rations—and impressive quarters, and where they were trained, in part, by Russian and satellite-nation coaches. To insure that they would not fall prey to the capitalistic blandishments of wicked Kingston, they were lectured frequently by political commissars who used Russian texts. In case the indoctrination didn't take, Castro sent along G-2 (or military intelligence) operatives. They were disguised as managers, coaches and even, in one instance, a bat boy. One authoritative count put the number of plainclothesmen at 142.
By Castro's standards, socialism received a stunning setback in Jamaica. Cuba not only isn't winning, it has fared poorly, and its chances of improving in the events which remain before the Games end this Saturday are extremely dim. But, once in Kingston, winning no longer became the major concern of the Cuban delegation. Nor was its concern the Dominican Republic, which defeated Cuba in volleyball, nor Puerto Rico, which edged it in baseball, nor the Mexicans, who slaughtered the Cubans in soccer. It was, instead, a 20-man defection team led by a pale, slender, intense man with horn-rimmed glasses, a quick mind and an overriding sense of duty. His name is Frank Díaz.
August 26, 1962
A defector himself two and a half years ago, Díaz is a former member of the Revolutionary Council, an anti-Castro organization, with headquarters in Miami, which is directed by José Miró Cardona. Rather than quit his proselyting and return to Miami as the Council and, according to reports, the embarrassed Jamaican government wished him to do, Díaz resigned last week. "The work here could not go on without me," he said defiantly. He became a freelancing defection specialist. His work all last week was harrowing and dangerous, and the political skulduggery lent an odd and bitter flavor to the often quaint course of the tropical Olympics.
By Sunday Díaz' recruiters appeared to have regained Cardona's blessings. The Jamaican government had reconsidered its position and was offering strong but quiet assistance to the defectors. A system had been set up at the Kingston airport whereby a Cuban athlete returning home had only to sprint to the immigration booth to ask for asylum.
Díaz' modus operandi was to travel the streets of Kingston in a closed car. When he saw a Cuban athlete by himself, he offered him a ride. His favorite hunting grounds were the brand-new National Stadium, where many of the events were held, and Jamaica College, where the Cuban delegation stayed. Díaz would tell the potential defector that he could furnish him or her with food, a plane ticket to Miami and a secret hiding place until departure time. He also guaranteed protection. Once the escape was arranged, it was usually Díaz himself who furnished the car which whisked the defector to the hideaway. In a day or so the escapee was flown to Miami, where U.S. Immigration officials have a processing program for Cuban refugees.
In the first week of the Games, Díaz helped nine Cubans to freedom: four men on the weight-lifting team and their coach, a photographer with the delegation, the basketball coach and a basketball player and José Ra√∫l Grande, second in command of the Cuban team. Two girl swimmers also expressed a desire to flee, but the plan was discovered and they were immediately shipped back to Cuba. Díaz is disappointed that the defection rate is not higher. Two months ago, when he and his colleagues made their plans, he expected 50 defectors.
"But the Cubans have got G-2 men everywhere," he said a few days ago at the stadium. "They're called coaches, or trainers, or whatever you like, but they're G-2. I'm positive. Even the bat boy is a G-2. He's a rotten bat boy, too. Because my friends and I know all their faces, they're sending down new G-2s. When an athlete is finished with his event, back he goes to Cuba." The official Cuban stand is that the athletes have been sent home to conserve dollars. There probably is at least some minor truth here: it is possible to buy 10 of Fidel's new pesos for one American dollar. In 1959 the rate of exchange was one for one.
Most of the escapes have had an aura of understated melodrama. The weight-lifting team calmly walked off the stage of Kingston's Ward Theatre during the competition, ran out of the theater through a public park into a waiting taxi. The defectors were driven to a transfer point, where they got into a car that took them to a deserted building on the outskirts of Kingston. There they huddled, still in their blue sweat pants, on straw mattresses under a dim, naked bulb. Said Negro middle-heavyweight Sergio Oliva, who had been forced to take part in a propaganda film so Castro could show a Negro departing for the Games: "They insulted me and my people."
The spiriting away of Basketball Coach José Sarasa, who, coincidentally, had once coached Díaz, had even more of a serape-and-dagger air to it. "I was looking for prospects near the college," Díaz recalls, "when I saw José walking. He got in the car, but two G-2s piled in with him, so we could not converse. When he got out he whispered to me he must talk to me on a matter of life or death. At the basketball game the next night he was surrounded by G-2s, but I met him in the bathroom. He told me things were so bad in Cuba he had to leave. He wanted to take his clothes, so we made it for Sunday night, but I was tipped off that G-2 had knowledge of his desires, so I got a message to him at the game on Friday night that it was that night or never."
That night Cuba lost to Mexico 85 to 61. After the final buzzer Sarasa made his way through the crowd to congratulate the Mexican coach. He then went to the officials' table and spoke a few words to the timekeeper. He stalled for a few moments, watching his team file out and head for their bus. Apparently satisfied that his boys were on their way back to the dorm, he walked briskly toward the exit. Once outside the gate, instead of turning to the car waiting to take him back, Sarasa went quickly through a vacant lot to a black sedan, its engine running, a back door ajar. Díaz materialized, clasped Sarasa's hand and helped him into the car, which gunned out of the lot in a swirl of dust. Approaching the hideaway it passed through a band of 30 Cuban exiles armed with machetes, sticks and shovels ready to repel any attempt to recapture Sarasa. "My wife might be killed for me doing this," Sarasa said. "I hope she renounces me."
Aside from the clandestine operations, one violent riot took place. When Puerto Rico played Cuba in baseball—on a refurbished cricket field—bench-jockeying, which is usually restricted to comments about an opponent's color, religion, national origin, legitimacy, courage and personal habits, became alarmingly political. The Cubans, for instance, called the Puerto Ricans "stooges" and "worms at the service of Yankee imperialism." Naturally, the Puerto Ricans took umbrage, and were joined in their high feelings by Cuban exiles in the stands. Fist-fighting, chair-throwing and other alarums and excursions followed. In another incident the Cuban cycling coach, piqued at all the photographs that were being taken, broke American Photographer Frank Beatty's arm by flinging a very heavy chair at him.
Athletically the Games (1,600 athletes from 15 countries competed in 15 sports) have been absolutely no contest. Mexico's large, confident and well-equipped team has been overwhelmingly dominant; after the first week it had won 30 gold medals, 14 silver medals and 11 bronze. No other country had received more than five gold medals. Going into the second week, Cuba stood fifth in the standings, behind Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Colombia as well as Mexico.
For all their drama and international intrigue, the Games have had their delightful moments, the kind which are seldom found, say, at the World Olympics. The basketball competition was postponed after 1) the basket was found not to be at the right height; 2) the uprights arrived late; 3) the uprights, when they arrived, were too weak to support the heavy backboard; 4) the scoreboard clock did not work and 5) the foul circle was in the wrong place. There was general pinching of usherettes in the stadium, and the local newspaper, The Daily Gleaner, quietly advised the offending parties to lay off. Owners of pigs, goats and burros were asked to keep them off the roads being used for a bicycle race. And finally there were impromptu ukulele and maraca concerts on various levels of the stadium during the late nighttime events.
Unfortunately, the Ninth Central American and Caribbean Games will not be remembered for Mexico's virtuosity or for a misplaced foul circle. Instead of being a sporting contest between 15 nations, it turned out to be a no-holds-barred struggle between two ideologies. "You have been told by Fidel to break the bones of the agitators," Chief Delegate Gonzales Guerra told the Cuban delegation in an emergency meeting, "and remember your duty." Castro, in his attempt to impress the Caribbean countries with his socialized legions, blundered badly. Not only did he lose face by having a leaky team, but he failed to observe the first principle of successful coaching—and successful propaganda: even if you think you're going to win big, speak softly and guarantee nothing.