August 1, 2008 / 1:12 AM / 9 years ago

Two Cuban baseball players missing, likely defected

HAVANA (Reuters) - Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro said on Thursday two Cuban baseball players had gone missing during a junior tournament in Canada, where officials say they had likely defected.

Castro, in a column posted on the Internet, said pitcher Noel Arguelles and shortstop Jose Antonio Iglesias were absent from the Cuban team and went on to complain about the United States “buying” Cuban athletes.

The Calgary Herald reported on Wednesday that tournament officials thought the two had not been seen since Sunday and were believed to have defected. The paper said their ages were not known but most players in the tournament were 17 or 18 years old.

The Cuban team is playing in the World Junior Triple AAA Baseball Championship in Edmonton, Alberta, where two Cuban players defected during the same tournament in 2000.

“Edmonton has become a trash bin. The Cuban athletes were poorly attended,” Castro wrote in his column. “It must be analyzed if it’s worth competing there.”

Castro, 81, complained that the United States has encouraged defections by luring Cuban athletes with money as part of its long campaign against the communist island.

“To what is owed the fear by the rich and powerful of our small and blockaded island?” he asked, referring to the 46-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

“But imperialist aggression doesn’t take place only in baseball,” wrote Castro, who went to list other Cuban athletes who have defected.

Defections, he said, had cost Cuba five sure gold medals in the upcoming Beijing Olympics.

But he said Cuban athletes would still win medals in the games and ”our people will enjoy the medals more than ever.

“Then,” he said, “the fans will remember the traitors.”

Castro wrote the column on the second anniversary of his turning power over to brother Raul Castro after undergoing emergency intestinal surgery.

He has not been seen in public for two years, but has become a prolific writer of columns published in Cuban media.

Raul Castro officially became president of Cuba in February in a vote of the National Assembly.

Reporting by Jeff Franks; editing by Anthony Boadle

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