Cubans face likely return to Nicaragua
By PAUL BRINKLEY-ROGERS and CATALINA CALDERON
Herald Staff Writers
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- Authorities rejected a request for residency from
Cuban baseball players, throwing into doubt their hopes to be quickly eligible for
the major league draft.
Roxana Quesada, a Ministry of Immigration attorney, said their petition
denied late Wednesday ``because the players lost credibility when they didn't tell
the truth.'' She said they had not disclosed the fact that they had crossed into
Costa Rica from Nicaragua after it became clear they would not be allowed to
Four of the athletes are from Cuba's Villa Clara team, which won the national
championship from 1993 to 1995. They include catcher Angel Lopez Berrido, 25,
and shortstop Jorge Diaz Olado, 23 -- who also were members of Cuba's national
team -- and utility man Osmani Garcia Santana, 23, and pitcher Alain Hernandez
Cardenas, 21. The fifth player is 17-year-old Michael Jova from Cuba's national
juvenile team, a left fielder whom major league scouts view as a hot prospect.
The group fled Cuba under mysterious circumstances early in August. They
in Nicaragua on Aug. 13 aboard a yacht chartered by Fort Lauderdale Internet
entrepreneur Nicholas Tanney Nolter and captained by a Westchester man who
does not reject claims that he sometimes helps people escape from Cuba.
The players told reporters in Nicaragua -- before they disappeared to emerge
month on an estate Nolter bought recently near the Costa Rican capital -- that
Nolter's yacht came across them by chance.
Nolter, who also runs an offshore sports gaming enterprise using the Internet
a San Jose office building, says he has been talking to a half-dozen Major League
agents about signing the players to American teams. He says he hopes to recoup
the money he has spent on helping the players by getting a percentage of their
Eduardo Vitchez Hurtado, the immigration ministry's director general, said
players also had not told the Costa Ricans that they were beisbolistas when they
were interviewed, and that this also contributed to the negative decision. He said
they probably would not have had a problem if they had told the complete truth,
including the fact that they entered Costa Rica from Nicaragua, but he declined to
say what they told his investigators.
Vitchez said the players have five days to appeal the ruling, and three
appeal again if the first appeal is rejected. If the second appeal fails, he said, they
can petition Costa Rica's security ministry.
Return to Cuba unlikely
It is possible, he said on Thursday, that Costa Rica may eventually deport
Cubans, but more probably to Nicaragua than to their homeland. Vitchez said that
about 15,000 Cubans have been granted permission to stay in Costa Rica, which
does not have diplomatic relations with Havana.
Applications from two other Cubans picked up by Nolter's yacht also were
down Wednesday. They were Laura Sanchez, a girlfriend of one of the players,
and Ernesto Gonzalez Nuñez, who piloted their small boat.
Lopez, Diaz and Jova escaped this year to the Bahamas, but they were sent
to Cuba in May. A third player who left with them -- Jorge Luis Toca -- was
eventually allowed to leave Cuba because he is married to a Japanese woman. He
now plays in the New York Mets' organization.
Suspension in 1997
Lopez and Garcia were suspended indefinitely from Cuba's national team
after they chatted on a visit to Mexico with former teammate Rolando Arrojo. He
had defected during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and now pitches for the
Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Costa Rica granted residency status to Orlando ``El Duque'' Hernandez,
Cuba in January. He signed a four-year, $6.6 million contract with the New York
Yankees and will likely be a starting pitcher in the upcoming World Series.