01 March 2010

Sports Autonomy for Territories Meets International Politics

Despite their non-independent political status, most overseas countries and territories (OCTs)enjoy membership in the international Olympic movement. Thus, it is not uncommon to see athletes from British, French and US – administered small island territories participating in major international athletic competitions, including regional events such as the Central American and Caribbean Games, the Pan American Games, and in the Olympics itself.

Matters can be a bit more complex, however, when a territory actually plays host to such an athletic event, and must adhere to all of the international requirements of any other host country as far as entry of the athletes from the invited countries and other requirements. In the British-administered territories in the Caribbean, where the territorial government exercises administrative control over immigration, this is not as much of an issue. But unlike their fellow OCTs, the US-administered territories do not control their borders, and, thus, cannot not control entry for the athletes and their respective delegations.

Enter international politics, and in this case, the dynamic of Cuba-United States relations. The 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games are scheduled to be held in the city of Mayaguez in Puerto Rico, a US-administered territory which does not have control to regulate entry of the visiting delegations. This has not allowed the Puerto Rico government, as the host country, to provide the usual guarantees for the participation of the Cuban athletes and delegation – despite the best efforts of the Puerto Rico government authorities. Sadly, this has resulted in the withdrawal of the Cuban teams from the competition. The following announcement provides detail on the decision.


Cuba Withdrawals from Central American and Caribbean Games Scheduled for Puerto Rico

Announcement by the Cuban Olympic Committee and the Cuban Sports Institute
26 February 2010

From July 17 to August 1, the 21st Central American and Caribbean Games take place in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. These games, recognized as the oldest multidisciplinary sports event in the world, are part of the Olympic series. With the objective of participating in them, more than 2,000 Cuban athletes have remained at their different centers, training intensively in order to be part of their teams.

Since the 1970 edition, Cuba has taken first place in the seven Central American Games in which it has participated, has accumulated in its history a total of 3,071 medals, 1,630 of them gold, 825 silver, and 616 bronze, and has historically attended these Games with its best athletes and teams, in a clear demonstration of the respect it has for sports and for the fraternal countries in our region.

For this year’s Games, we have a strong selection which could win our country first place once again, in Mayaguez 2010.Our accumulated experiences in events held in Puerto Rican territory have not been good.
Members of the delegations who participated in the Central American and Caribbean Games of San Juan 1966 and Ponce 1993, and the classifying round of the First World Classic in 2006 still remember with just displeasure the constant aggression, provocations and insults, and the constant pressure to which they were subjected by Cuban counterrevolutionary groups which act with impunity and which have made terrorism, intolerance and fascism in its U.S. variety a way of life that is well-paid and sponsored by different U.S. administrations.

The venue was granted to Mayaguez during the Extraordinary General Assembly of the ODECABE, which took place in Havana in May 2004. The vote was 22 for and 16 against. At that same assembly, Cuba clearly expressed our country’s position, its demands and the obligations expected of the ODECABE and Puerto Rico.

Since that same year of 2004, we have been alerting the authorities of the Organizing Committee for the Games, the Central American and Caribbean Sports Organization (ODECABE) and the Puerto Rican Olympic Committee (COPUR) that the 21st Games, to be held in the city of Mayaguez, should comply fully with what is established by the regulations for this type of competition and that Cuba would not accept any kind of discriminatory treatment.

One example of that: solely in the period of October 2007 to February 2010, more than 45 meetings, conferences, calls and exchanges of correspondence took place between the Cuban Olympic Committee and Puerto Rican sports authorities, and the Central American and Caribbean Sports Organization (ODECABE), all aimed at clearly specifying Cuba’s positions and its desire to participate in the Games, if our just requirements were met.

Cuba’s requirements were:

— Visas for its entire delegation, based on what is established in the ODECABE Statute; permission to land in an appropriate airport in Puerto Rican territory, and the assurance that aircraft of the Cubana de Aviación airline would not be confiscated, as well as guarantees for bringing in and taking out sports equipment and all other necessary equipment for the competition.

— That the conditions of housing, internal transportation and other facilities would be the same as those assigned to the other delegations, and that access would be given to the press and other members of the support group which the other athletic embassies also have.

— That conditions of security and tranquility would be established, avoiding pressure and provocations.

Moreover, that Cuba also would not allow in any way for its delegation, upon arriving in Puerto Rico, to be subjected to treatment reserved for citizens from countries considered to be terrorist. The United States government has given us that status arbitrarily and unjustly; the Cuban sports movement opportunely expressed its full backing for the statement issued by our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, vigorously rejecting that aggression from the empire.

When we demanded visas for all of the delegation’s members, we did so based on the ODECABE Statute, an entity that organizes the Games, which establishes in its Chapter X, Article 40 the following:

"…The National Olympic Committee that aspires to hold the Games should deliver an official declaration from its national and city government expressing that they accept the responsibility to host the Games, and that the Central Government is obliged to grant entry to the country with the CENTRAL AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN IDENTITY CARD (TIC) and a valid passport…."

That legal commitment is being trampled upon.

The Statute, as everybody knows, regulates the entity’s operation with respect to third parties, and establishes the rights and obligations of members and their relations. To allow them to be violated is to propitiate the legal division of the organization and its weakening.

We thank the Puerto Rican sports authorities for their willingness to pay for non-Cuban charter airplanes for our delegation to visit the Games. It is an elegant gesture, but we cannot accept it. We repeatedly demanded to travel to Puerto Rico as members of the ODECABE, with all of our rights. We are a country of dignified, combative and truly patriotic athletes who do not have to be concealed in order to attend an event in which they play a leading role, or as non-desirable people who have to be admitted through the back door, hiding their place of origin. We are proud of our flag and our people, and consequently, we cannot accept such humiliation.

Cuba has only been demanding its rights as a member country of the ODECABE; any venue of the Central American and Caribbean Games would have guaranteed those rights without any difficulty whatsoever.

Mayaguez, however, although it has wanted to, has not been able to ensure those conditions. Puerto Rico, as a Free Associated State, is dependent on the government of the United States of America, and is governed by U.S. federal laws. We have publicly recognized the continuous, tireless efforts of the Puerto Rican sports authorities and people, but the response provided by the U.S. government to their many efforts has been silence or the issuance of documents written in completely ambiguous terms, very much in tone, by the way, with the current style of U.S. diplomacy; they contain no response to our country’s requests.

The Cuban side has had patience, ethics, and the desire to cooperate in eradication of obstacles and hindrances, and to participate together with our brothers and sisters from Central America and the Caribbean in the 21st Games, but months and years have passed without receiving answers. The reasonable waiting period, after four extensions conceded by the Cuban sports movement to the organizers of Mayaguez 2010, has run out.

After thoroughly evaluating every step taken and the position taken once again by the U.S. government of creating obstacles and not agreeing to just requests, the Cuban Olympic Committee and the Cuban Sports Institute (INDER), have decided to officially announce that Cuba will not participate in the Mayaguez 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games.

The International Olympic Committee, the National Olympic Committees, institutions, organizations and sports federations, and the world community, too, should take note of this occurrence, and evaluate to what extent venues can continue to be given to a country which, in its foreign policy and diplomacy, is creating elements that are aggressive and in violation of international law.

City of Havana. February 26, 2010
Cuban Olympic Committee
National Sports Institute.
(Translated by Granma International)