Los Angeles Dodgers' Yasiel Puig: epic defection journey from Cuba to America

  • 10 years ago
Originally published on April 22, 2014

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Yasiel Puig, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Cuban outfielder, is at the center of a media storm after an ESPN article alleged the baseball star fled his native country with the help of a smuggling ring affiliated with the Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas.

Before landing in the United States, the 23-year-old baseball player and his childhood friend Yunior Despaigne had made four failed attempts to flee Cuba. Despaigne, a national-level boxer, reportedly received a phone call from Raul Pacheco, a Cuban national living in Miami. Pacheco allegedly offered Despaigne $150,000 and a house if he could convince Puig to defect and play for a league team in the United States.

After much persuasion, Puig agreed to make another attempt to leave Cuba in April 2012. He brought along his then girlfriend and a Santeria priest, who was believed would bring him good luck for the journey. The four caught a ride in Cienfuegos and left for the town of Playa Giron to meet their guide.

As the agreed rendezvous point was swarming with police, the defectors drove on to the coastal town of Playa Larga, where they finally met their guide. But pursued by police, they embarked on a tortuous escape route. They wove their way through swampland during the day, while walking along beaches at night.

After a 30-hour trek, the groups reached a barrier island near the Bay of Pigs, where they would board a vessel hired by Raul Pacheco that took them to Isla Mujeres, Mexico.The boat ride was allegedly coordinated by Tomas Valez Valdivia, an infamous gangster with links to the Los Zetas drug cartel.

Puig and his group then lodged at a motel controlled by Valdivia. But after Pacheco failed to pay the smuggler, he threatened to chop off Puig's arms.

The defectors were held captive for weeks, prompting Pacheco to seek help from the leader of another smuggling ring. Little was known about him, except for the fact that he is a 40-year-old, blond man born in Güines, a town near Havana.

The leader reportedly arranged a boat ride to Cancun for the defectors in return for a portion of Puig's future income.

Even though none of the group had travel documents, the defectors boarded a commercial flight to Mexico City where the mysterious leader lined up meetings between Puig and representatives from different teams. Puig later landed a $42-million deal with Los Angeles Dodgers.

Puig then traveled to the Mexican border town of Reynosa, walked onto the international bridge linking to Hidalgo, Texas, and applied for asylum. The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 allows any Cuban citizens to apply for asylum, as long as they enter America via land.


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