August 9, 1999

Cuba still seething after PanAm Games controversies

                  HAVANA (Reuters) -- Cuba on Monday celebrated its second place in the
                  Pan American Games' final medal tally, but was still seething at an alleged
                  "dirty tricks" campaign against its athletes during the tournament in Canada.

                  In comments full of patriotic expressions and bellicose language, Cuban
                  officials and state media hailed the athletes's achievements despite the
                  "knavery" against them.

                  State newspaper Trabajadores (Workers), the only daily to circulate
                  Monday, said Cuban sportsmen had not faced such "provocations,
                  obstacles, aggressions, lies and tricks" since the 1966 Central American
                  Games in Puerto Rico when its athletes had to travel by boat to circumvent a
                  U.S. visa ban.

                  "However, despite the maneuvers, the Cuban delegation returns with
                  resounding sports' and moral victories," the newspaper said.

                  A Caribbean island of just 11 million inhabitants, Cuba took second place in
                  the final medal tally with 69 golds -- beating all other nations except the
                  United States.

                  While the U.S. athletes reaped 106 golds, host nation Canada came third
                  with 64, and the large South American nations Brazil and Argentina were a
                  distant fourth and fifth with 25 gold medals each.

                  Cuba's sporting achievements in Winnipeg were, however, frequently
                  upstaged by controversy -- ranging from the desertion of several athletes,
                  and positive doping tests for three, to harassment by foreign media and
                  talent-scouts, and claims of rule-twisting to hurt the island's chances.

                  Even Cuba's President Fidel Castro joined the fray, risking a diplomatic
                  incident with Ottawa by saying he had never seen "so much trickery and
                  dirtiness" as that being allowed by Canadian organizers of the tournament.

                  The events have had a huge political impact in Cuba, where its athletes are
                  seen as symbols of national pride, as well as ambassadors of the island's
                  socialist sports' system and the Castro government itself.

                  Particularly hurtful to Cuba was the stripping of world record high-jumper
                  Javier Sotomayor's gold medal after cocaine was found in his urine.
                  Sotomayor, and Cuba, have vigorously denied the charge, even suggesting
                  the CIA or anti-Castro Cuban exile groups in the United States may have
                  spiked his food.

                  The Cuban state sports' institute INDER was less definitive, however, about
                  weightlifters Rolando Delgado Nunez and William Vargas Trujillo, who were
                  both stripped of their gold medals Sunday after testing positive for

                  INDER president Humberto Rodriguez promised Monday a swift inquiry to
                  establish if it was "another trick against our country" or, if proved, "the cause
                  of that, and the responsibility the trainer, doctor or athlete may bear."

                  As is customary in Cuba, there was no official mention of the defections.
                  Sports' fans on the street, however, knew all the details via foreign news
                  stations they tune into illegally.

                  Sotomayor, 31, whose career would likely be over if a two-year ban from
                  foreign competition is ratified after the doping, sent a letter to the Cuban
                  people over the weekend thanking them for their solidarity with his case.

                  "I have always felt the warmth of my people, but never as close and as
                  unanimous at a time so necessary for me when I feel a victim of a maneuver,
                  a trick so unworthy for my image as a sportsman, for my image in the eyes
                  of the people, for my image as a revolutionary."

                  Sotomayor, an idol in Cuba, added that he still planned to compete in the
                  upcoming world athletics' championship in Seville, Spain, as no ban had yet
                  been pronounced against him.