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A little more than a week before starting the Pre-Olympic Baseball of the Americas qualifiers in Florida, the Cuban team does not have visas to travel to the United States, players and officials said, according to an AP report on Wednesday.
Managers and players expressed their concern on Tuesday about the lack of authorizations to attend the event in West Palm Beach and Port St. Lucie, despite the fact that they sought to obtain them in more than three countries due to the sanctions imposed by Washington against the island make it impossible to do so in Cuba.
"We don't have the visas for the pre-Olympics at this time. We have made enormous efforts," Luis Daniel Del Risco, current treasurer of the Cuban Baseball Federation, told The Associated Press. "We tried in Mexico; we tried in Panama; we tried to do it (the process) in Guyana."
Last week, the athletes and their directors finally submitted the documentation to the U.S. Embassy in Havana--which has had its consular area closed by decree from former President Donald Trump since 2017--. Still, they have yet to receive a response.
On Tuesday, in an AP communication with the State Department, the official agency did not give details. It indicated that "visa records are confidential," so it could not be informed about the athletes' cases.
The Cuban team has been training for months for the Pre-Olympic qualifiers to qualify for the Games to be held this year in Tokyo, explained captain Frederich Cepeda.
"It's very sad what's happening; we've been training for a while now," Cepeda, a stellar ambidextrous outfielder, told the AP during a break in training on Tuesday. "It's a dream for us and for the people of Cuba to achieve Olympic qualification...what we want is to compete for the right...and earn our qualification."
The Americas Pre-Olympic will run from May 31 to June 5. Cuba is scheduled to debut against Venezuela in a Group B game, which Colombia and Canada round out.
1/ **Scoop** by @NelsonAcostaBus: #Cuba's baseball team told Reuters the U.S. embassy in Havana had started processing their applications for visas to attend the Americas Olympic qualifying tournament in Florida despite restrictions on consular serviceshttps://t.co/K8HnszvuOM
The top two teams in each group will play each other in a second phase. The first-place team will qualify for the Olympic Games, where the participation of Japan, Mexico, South Korea, and Israel is already assured.
Meanwhile, the second and third place teams will have to compete in one more qualifying tournament, scheduled for June in Taiwan, as the last chance to go to Tokyo, where baseball will return to the Olympic program after a 13-year absence.
With three gold medals and two silver medals, Cuba is the most outstanding country in Olympic baseball history.
Cuba announced in recent weeks the members of the 32-ball team, including athletes playing under contract in Japan's professional leagues.
In addition to Cepeda, the team's standouts include slugger Lisbán Correa, outfielder Alfredo Despaigne and pitcher Lázaro Blanco.
Managers told the AP that all players were vaccinated against COVID-19 during a campaign last month, with a two-dose schedule of the island's drug Soberana 02 and a booster dose of Soberana Plus.