Cuban National Soccer Team Denied U.S. Visas As Havana Accuses Biden of Broken Promises

Nelson Johnston #21 of Cuba kicks the ball against the the United States during during a game on October 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

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The Cuban national soccer team was denied visas to enter the U.S. for the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament. It's the latest drama between Washington and Havana, which has accused President Biden of maintaining former President Trump's Cuba policy despite a campaign promise to normalize relations with the communist country. 

Cuba's Football Association issued a statement on Saturday night that was distributed by the country’s state media. The statement said their team was blocked from traveling to Florida for the tournament and described the situation as "an outrage." 

"Once again, issues unrelated to sports prevent our country from competing on U.S. soil on equal terms with our rivals, violating the precepts of fair play and the legitimate rights of any sports delegation," the statement said. "The U.S. Government has no justification whatsoever to deny us entry into their country, and therefore to prevent us from taking part in a competition in which we have been part of on many occasions." 

Cuba was forced to withdraw from the tournament, which determines the continental champion for North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. In its statement, the Cuban Football Assocation rang alarm bells for the global athletic community.

“Such disrespect deserves not only our most energetic rejection, but also the urgent attention of international sports institutions. Cuban athletes, in fact no athlete in the world, should have to face an outrage of this nature,” the statement said.

The Cuban government did not respond to requests for comment from The Uprising.

In a statement of its own, CONCACAF, which is one of six continental governing bodies for soccer, said Cuba had to forfeit its game against French Guiana “due to Covid-19 related travel and visa challenges, and the required Covid-19 testing regime.”

Last year’s Gold Cup was cancelled due to the pandemic. Cuba participated in the 2019 Gold Cup, including matches hosted in the United States.

The soccer spat comes roughly one month after Cuba's baseball team nearly missed Olympic qualifiers in the U.S. due to a delay in obtaining travel documents. Those visas were ultimately granted in late May, days before the tournament was set to take place.

These visa issues come as the Cuban government has accused President Biden of going back on campaign promises and continuing Trump’s policy toward the country. In a tweet sent on May 25, Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodriguez Parilla accused Biden of “adopting Trump’s measures.”

“The abyss between speech and reality grows,” Rodriguez Parilla said of Biden.

The White House referred questions about the Gold Cup visas and President Biden’s policy towards Cuba more broadly to the State Department, which, citing the July 4th holiday, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In 2014, President Obama began normalizing relations with Cuba and loosening some of the restrictions that are part of the U.S. embargo on the country. When he took office three years later, Trump declared he was “canceling” Obama’s Cuba policy and began imposing new restrictions and sanctions on the country. As he ran for president last year, Biden vowed to “go back” to the Obama era policy towards Havana.

Carlos Fernández de Cossío, general director of the Cuban Foreign Ministry's U.S. Division, gave an interview to CBS News on July 2 where he criticized Biden for continuing Trump’s posture towards the country. He framed the move as aimed at placating the Cuban-American population in Florida, a crucial electoral state, and said it caused “hardships” for the people of Cuba.

“They’re taking their time in what they call a revision of the policy, but in practical terms, within the past five months, it has been a continuation of the Trump policy,” Fernández de Cossío said fo the Biden administration.

During that interview, Fernández de Cossío did not answer questions about whether Cuba would be willing to free political prisoners or relax restrictions on free speech as part of an effort to improve relations. He argued the continuation of the embargo was particularly harsh since it prevented imports of necessary supplies during the pandemic.

“The Trump administration chose COVID 19 to be its ally in its policy of maximum pressure against Cuba and, to this day, that policy continues,” Fernández de Cossío said.

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FUN FACT: President John F. Kennedy favored Petit Upmann Cuban cigars. According to Kennedy’s former press secretary, Pierre Salinger, the president made sure to secure a stash of the cigars just before imposing the trade embargo against Cuba in 1961. In an article for Cigar Aficionado three decades later, Salinger claimed that one evening Kennedy asked him to procure “about 1,000 Petit Upmanns.” The following morning, Salinger informed Kennedy he had purchased 1,200 of the Cuban cigars.

“Kennedy smiled, and opened up his desk. He took out a long paper which he immediately signed,” Salinger wrote. “It was the decree banning all Cuban products from the United States. Cuban cigars were now illegal in our country.”

President John F. Kennedy smokes a cigar during a Democratic fundraising dinner at the Commonwealth Armory at Boston University. (Photo: Getty Images)

Salinger’s entire article about Kennedy and his love of cigars is worth reading. It includes another anecdote about Salinger’s failed attempt to smuggle a box of Cubans given to him by the prime minister of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, into the country.

Kennedy apparently didn’t consider warning his press secretary when he had Salinger get him a supply of cigars just before imposing the embargo.

“The embargo complicated my life,” Salinger wrote. “The only time I could get a few Cuban cigars was when I traveled abroad with the President to countries like France, Austria and Great Britain.”

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