Scores of Cuban rafters who have waited months in a Bahamian detention center watched as a group of Cuban baseball stars moved to the head of the line toward freedom.
Left behind the barbed wire sandwiched between two 9-foot-high chain-link fences were those without major league-caliber fastballs or home run swings - some who planned to start a hunger strike in protest Monday.As nine Cuban defectors, including four ball players and a coach, were whisked into the Carmichael Road Detention Center near Nassau on Sunday, an international effort to release them was already under way.
Chants of "freedom" greeted the new arrivals as well as Cuban-American sports agent Joe Cubas, who flew in from Miami to help secure their release much as he did for pitching star Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez.
"We just want what El Duque got. We are all equal, not just the sports stars," said a voice that rose from behind the fences.
Another voice cried out: "We have the same rights as the ball players."
Detainee Lazaro Santana Mejia, who has taken a leadership role in the camp, gave an accounting of the number of refugees.
"We would like to help all those people in the camp," said Santana, who has been detained for three months. "It was very sad to see 11 children, 17 women and 105 men in that camp. They are all looking for liberty. It's our duty to help."
"I feel really good right now," said 23-year-old first baseman Jorge Luis Toca. "I believe we have found the freedom we didn't have."
The ball players who fled with Toca are Angel Lopez, 25; Jorge Diaz, 23; Michael Jova, a 17-year-old player from Cuba's junior Olympic team; and Enrique Chinea, 41, the pitching coach. All five were banned from baseball in the last year because Cuban authorities suspected they were planning to defect.