‘Freedom always wins’: Cuban Americans in South Florida welcome catcher who defected

·2 min read

Cuban American leaders in Miami welcomed a catcher who represented Cuba in the World Baseball Classic after he defected on Monday, following his team’s loss against the United States at loanDepot park in Little Havana.

Bullpen catcher Iván Prieto González, 26, didn’t show up at Miami International Airport for the team’s flight to Havana. Protests against the island nation’s appearance in the tournament took place in and around the stadium Sunday.

Roberto Pizano, 84, who was a political prisoner in Cuba for 18 years before he was released following negotiations during the Jimmy Carter presidency, commended Prieto on Monday afternoon during a panel led by Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora in Miami.

READ MORE: Cuban catcher defects in Miami after World Baseball Classic game at loanDepot park

“Congratulations to the baseball player who just defected from the Cuban team,” Pizano told the Miami Herald after a discussion on the influence of the Cuban government in the U.S. “We would like to have seen many more follow his lead.”

READ MORE: ‘This is a trap’: Protesters slam Cuban national team as the World Baseball Classic begins

Orlando Gutiérrez-Boronat, 57, an author and activist whose family fled Cuba in the early 1970s, hailed the defection.

“We welcome this Cuban brother to the land of the free,” Gutiérrez-Boronat said. “This ratifies our position that the protests weren’t against the baseball players, but against the regime that enslaves them.”

READ MORE: Cuban catcher defects after World Baseball Classic. What does it mean for his pro ball chances?

Ramón Saúl Sánchez, 68, the president of Democracy Movement, a nonprofit that advocates for democratic changes in Cuba, welcomed the news of Prieto’s defection.

“Anyone who seeks freedom must be welcomed,” Sánchez said in a phone interview. “The fact that a baseball player, who is better off than most Cubans on the island, had to escape from the security forces of the Cuban government, gives us a taste of what type of regime they have been made to live in.”

Iván Prieto González, who was the bullpen catcher for Cuba’s World Baseball Classic team, stayed in Miami after Sunday’s game against the United States.
Iván Prieto González, who was the bullpen catcher for Cuba’s World Baseball Classic team, stayed in Miami after Sunday’s game against the United States.

Nuñez reacts to news about the player’s defection

Nuñez, the lieutenant governor, who is Cuban American, started the panel by congratulating the Cuban exile community for peacefully protesting against the Cuban government.

“The governor and I know full well the pain and the devastation that the Cuban regime has inflicted on the Cuban people for decades,” she told panel attendants.

READ MORE: We played ball with Cuba in Miami, filled the stadium — and expressed ourselves. A win | Opinion

Nuñez told the Herald that players like Prieto know the difference between living in a free country and one where human rights aren’t respected. But she said it saddens her that many of the athletes have “allowed themselves to be used as part of the propaganda of the Cuban government.”

READ MORE: Team Mexico’s Randy Arozarena wants Cuba in WBC final. Why? ‘So then we can face them’

“Last night’s win for the United States was a resounding reminder that freedom always wins,” Nuñez said.