Cuba's initial reaction to the defections was silence, and then something akin to good riddance. "This is a regrettable situation," said press chief Manuel Vaillant. "Our feeling is simply that if they didn't love their country, we don't care to dedicate any words to them."
But the Cuban sports apparatus has begun to recognize that the times have changed. Javier Sotomayor, the world-record holder in the high jump, and six other Cuban track and field stars were recently allowed to compete professionally for a Spanish club, although their salaries will be paid to the government. The about-face reflects a desire to placate Cuban athletes as well as the country's need for hard currency. The Mexican news agency Notimex reported that two of Cuba's best baseball players, pitcher Omar Ajete and outfielder Orestes Kindelan, will be allowed to play in Japan next year under a similar arrangement.
The prospect of Cuba's baseball players' performing in Japan has U.S. scouts salivating. Former pitcher Kevin Saucier of the Major League Scouting Bureau, in Puerto Rico to assess the Cuban talent, says, "Six or seven of these guys can play in the big leagues right now."
One of the most-coveted players is third baseman Omar Linares. During the CAC Games he was pictured in the Puerto Rican daily El Nuevo D�a holding a baseball on which were painted the flags of Puerto Rico and Cuba. Athletes from both islands wore T-shirts bearing the slogan DE UN PAJARO, DOS ALAS. It means "from one bird, two wings," a reference to these lines by 19th-century Puerto Rican poet Lola Rodr�guez de T�o:
Cuba and Puerto Rico are two wings of a bird
They receive flowers and bullets in the same heart.
The Central American and Caribbean Games of 1993 will be remembered for the many athletes who rode those wings to freedom.