The Cuban delegation to the 1962 Central American and Caribbean Games (CACGs) held in Jamaica – the first in which Cuba competed after 1959 – circumvented the obstacles that aimed to prevent their participation. However, the delegation that attended the 1966 Games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, went beyond this feat, and silenced the island’s enemies.
In the days preceding the event, which ran June 11 through the 25th, Cuba was immersed in the intense preparation of the people, faced with the threat of another armed aggression from the United States, a situation that had been aggravated following the assassination of Luis Ramírez López, on May 21, 1966, perpetrated from territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base. The young combatant of the Border Brigade became the second martyr to be killed by shots fired from the U.S. post after Ramón López Peña was killed on July 19, 1964.
The events marked part of an escalation of pressure on the island by the U.S. government.
At the same time as these Yankee threats, the passage of Hurricane Alma in May through the western part of the island and the damages caused forced authorities to focus attention on recovery efforts. It was in this context, and faced with the thousand and one obstacles introduced by the United States, that Cuba participated in the 1966 Central American and Caribbean Games of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
THE BOAT OF DIGNITY
Cuban sports authorities evaluated several options to ensure the delegation arrived on time for the Games’ inauguration on June 11 at the Hirám Bithorn Stadium. The U.S. was caught by surprise when on June 8 the Cerro Pelado ship set sail from Santiago de Cuba.
The ship, captained by Onelio Pino, who in 1956 piloted the Granma yacht from Mexico with the expeditionaries commanded by Fidel Castro, was equipped for the transportation of the athletes, who trained on deck during the 36-hour journey.
Harassed throughout the trip by low flying U.S. planes, they dropped anchor in international waters, five kilometers from San Juan, as an alternative to what was imposed by the U.S. administration, preventing them from docking in a safe harbor.
José Llanusa, then president of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER) and head of the delegation, read aboard the Declaration of Cerro Pelado, in defense of Cuba’s right to participate in the event.
The feat has become well-known and, although not all members of the delegation arrived in time to parade at the opening of the Games, the friendly hand of different nations offered solutions to the delays in Cuban athletes receiving their sports equipment and suitcases. The Dominican Republic, for example, loaned its own equipment for Cuban boxers to train.
The Puerto Rican people enthusiastically welcomed the Cubans, eager to see them compete, but the counterrevolution was also active, with mercenaries based in Puerto Rico and those who traveled from Miami, New York, and other cities, ready to encourage the island’s athletes to defect.
Even so, the Cuban delegation shone throughout the competition, with Enrique Figuerola securing the gold medal in the 100m race, with a time of 10.2 seconds. The athlete came third in the 200m, clocking a time of 21.5 seconds, and repeated his bronze performance in the 4x100m relay, alongside Félix Eugellés, Juan Morales, and Manuel Montalvo.
Also admired was the dominance on the track of the island’s women athletes, with Miguelina Cobián taking the gold in the 100m, stopping the clock at 11.7 seconds, while her compatriot Cristina Echeverría took the silver with 11.9 seconds, and Fulgencia Romay came fourth with a time of 12 seconds. Along with Irene Martínez, they secured the silver medal in the 4x100m relay, in 46.5 seconds. Irene also took the gold in the long jump (5.87 meters).
Relief pitcher Gaspar “Curro” Pérez secured Cuba’s win over Puerto Rico in the baseball competition to become the champions; fencers Mireya Rodríguez and Luis A. Morales triumphed in the singles, and many more boldly competed to position Cuba second place in the country medal count (35 gold, 19 silver and 24 bronze medals), behind Mexico (38-23-22).
CUBA’S ENEMIES LAID OPEN TO RIDICULE
The counterrevolution in San Juan reported that the 12 members of the Cuban women’s volleyball team had fled in a bus. This was broadcast by radio station WYAC and other radio and television stations. In fact, they had paid the bus driver a hundred dollars to invent the story. The truth immediately emerged: the team was resting in the Olympic Village.
Our late colleague Juan Marrero, reporting for Granma, revealed that throughout the nine innings of the baseball game between Cuba and Puerto Rico for the gold, a CIA agent did not stop shouting at Pedro Chávez with a megaphone: “Chávez, stay, jump the fence!” The player did not answer him verbally; he preferred to simply make three hits that night.
Other attacks included throwing stones at the buses that transported the Cuban delegation, while flyers were distributed inciting their defection and demonizing the Revolution.
Many stories could be told about the vicissitudes experienced by this Delegation of Dignity. Upon their return to the homeland, the athletes were welcomed with the grateful fervor of their people, and recognized by Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro, who had already congratulated them onboard the ship at sea.
OUTLINE OF HOSTILITIES
- Beginning in 1965, leaders of the CACGs Organizing Committee in Puerto Rico devised to hold the event without inviting Cuba. That year, the island had been prevented from competing in the Baseball World Cup, in Colombia, in a judo tournament in Brazil, and in a soccer tournament in Costa Rica.
- The IOC Session in Madrid thwarted the charade of not inviting Cuba, warning Puerto Rico that it would lose the right to host the Games if it went ahead with this plan, since the statutes of the governing body of international sport establish the obligatory nature of the host nation to invite all nations with the right to compete, without exception.
- With the failure of the attempt to exclude Cuba, the CACGsOrganizing Committee processed the visas for Cuban athletes through the U.S. Department of State, rather than conducting the procedure through the Embassy of Switzerland in Havana, representative of U.S. interests on the island.
The U.S. stated that the Cubans had to travel to a third country to obtain “special permits” and not visas, due to the lack of relations between the two nations.
- After negotiations in Mexico with Manuel González Guerra, head of the Cuban Olympic Committee, and INDER leader Fabio Ruiz, the issue of the permits appeared to have been resolved. The United States then demanded that the Cuban delegation travel on commercial flights to San Juan, as they were not authorized to travel on the Cubana airline. This imposition was rejected.
- The CACGsOrganizing Committee affirmed that as Cuba already had the authorization to travel and the only outstanding issue was their transportation, the Games would take place without their presence if the island decided not to transport its athletes to San Juan.
- The U.S. attempted to coerce Cuba by proposing that the landing or berthing permit in Puerto Rico would only be obtained if special facilities were given to U.S. citizens for their daily departures from Varadero to Miami. That unsuccessful demand was denounced in a letter from González Guerra to the Avery Brundage, head of the IOC.
- Despite all the obstacles, on June 8, three days before the opening of the Games, the Cuban delegation departed for San Juan on the Cerro Pelado ship, to bequeath to the Cuban sports movement one of the most outstanding feats of its history.
Sources: Enrique Montesinos & Sigfredo Barros, Centroamericanos y del Caribe, los más antiguos juegos deportivos regionales del mundo,”(Havana:Editorial Científico-Técnica, 1984).