WASHINGTON -- The hopes of Cuban baseball star Andy Morales for a major league career in the United States were dashed when the Coast Guard repatriated him and 30 others, five days after they were picked up at sea while trying to flee.
A U.S. official in Washington said Wednesday that Morales was returned because he did not qualify for political asylum.
Morales was among 31 Cubans who were repatriated after being picked up by a Coast Guard cutter near Key West. Two suspected smugglers were turned over to the U.S. Border Patrol, Coast Guard spokesman Robert Suddarth said in Miami.
Morales is a 25-year-old third baseman who hit a home run last year in a 12-6 victory by the Cuban national team over the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore.
The decision to return the 31 was made by Immigration and Naturalization Service agents who interviewed them. To qualify for admission to the United States, Cubans who attempt to flee must convince the INS they have a credible fear of persecution if they are returned.
Under an agreement with Cuba, U.S. diplomats monitor repatriated Cubans to determine whether they are undergoing official harassment as a result of their decision to try to flee.
Jose Cardenas, Washington representative of the Cuban-American National Foundation, an anti-Castro group, criticized the decision to return Morales and he linked it to administration efforts to return Elian Gonzalez to his homeland.
''This shows that in the wake of the Elian Gonzalez situation there has been clearly a political decision in the White House to basically whitewash the situation in Cuba, to pretend it is some sort of normal country, where human rights are abused not any more than in the next country,'' Cardenas said.
Frank Calzon of the Center for a Free Cuba said: ''A Cuban athlete of national and international fame, who attempts to defect, just like a well-known scientist or artist, will be treated by the Castro government as 'scum' or a traitor to the motherland.''
Morales had a Miami-based American agent, Gus Dominguez, who had hoped to sign Morales with a professional U.S. team. Efforts to reach Dominguez by telephone were unsuccessful.
About 35 Cuban baseball players have defected in the past 10 years.
Morales' parents told a reporter in the Cuban town of San Nicolas on Tuesday that they had no objection to their son's attempt to migrate.
''I don't care what uniform -- whether it be from here, from there, Colombia, Venezuela or Japan,'' Adelso Morales, Andy's father, said Tuesday. ''But he has to play. It's in his blood.''
Morales said he thought the repatriation would end his son's career.
''As a baseball player, he's over. ... I really feel badly,'' he said. ''God chooses a destiny for us, and if this is what God wants, then all right. ... Others have been left behind in the sea, and that is more painful, that is worse.''
The son has two children: Andy Jr., 10, and Yandi, 4 months. He lived in another community near San Nicolas with his second wife, Daiyana, and Yandi.
On the Net: INS: http://www.ins.usdoj.gov
Cuban newspaper Granma: http://www.granma.cu
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