Delays in acquiring visas putting Cuban baseball team's games against Champions at risk

HAVANA, May 31th Staffing problems at the Canadian Embassy in Cuba stemming from the so-called “Havana Syndrome” are being blamed for delays in granting visas to members of Cuba’s national baseball team, which is about to embark on a series of games in Canada and the U.S.

The games, which include a series against the Ottawa Champions, are only a couple of weeks away.

“As we understand it, the Canadian Embassy is very understaffed following the radio-wave incidents a couple of years ago,” said Champions owner Miles Wolff. “We’re getting a little concerned, although more discussions are planned (and) every string that can be pulled is being pulled.”

Canada’s presence in Cuba is lessened thanks to the Havana Syndrome, a scourge of concussion-like symptoms that appeared in 14 Canadian diplomats in that city over the past couple of years. The workers experienced things like nosebleeds and severe headaches as well as more lasting problems such as blurred vision and prolonged trauma. As a result, Global Affairs halved the number of Canadian diplomats in Havana last January, going from 16 to eight. Some of the diplomats are now suing the government for $28 million, alleging it failed to properly inform, protect, treat and support the Canadians.

A sort of electromagnetic “wave” attack, which Wolff referenced, was theorized as a possible source of the symptoms, though no exact cause has yet been identified.

The Cubans are scheduled to open a three-game Father’s Day weekend series against the Champions on June 14. The Cubans follow that with games in Quebec City on June 18-20 and in Trois-Rivières on June 21-23, then move to the U.S. for more games against Can-Am teams before an exhibition game against the American Pan Am team in North Carolina.

But first the Cuban players need to get their visas before they can even purchase tickets to this country.

Wolff said the Can-Am League, as well as Cuban officials, are in talks with Global Affairs Canada to try to speed up the process.

Global Affairs, reached for comment regarding staffing issues in Havana, redirected the request to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. That department provided a comment, saying that, due to the reduced number of Canadian diplomatic personnel in Cuba, all visas for that country are being processed out of Mexico City.

“These offices have been equipped with the necessary resources to help manage the increased workload and to ensure that IRCC services for Cuban residents continue to run smoothly,” the statement said.

“Staffing in surrounding offices has been augmented to handle the increase in work which was transferred from the Havana office. We don’t foresee any delays in the processing of visas for Cuban nationals as a result.”

The Cubans are treating the trip as a warmup for the Pan Am Games in Peru from July 26 to Aug. 11.

The games are also important to Ottawa for revenue purposes. In previous games in Ottawa, the powerful Cuban team has drawn an average 5,000 fans to RCGT Stadium — more than twice the Champions’ average attendance.

When the Cuban team last visited in 2017, the Champions even won both games in a two-game weekend series, 3-0 and 9-3.

Some Spanish-language news sites have reported in the past few days that the Cuban team has newly scheduled games in Nicaragua starting June 26, a date when it was supposed to be in the U.S after playing in Canada. Wolff brushed off those reports.

“These games are important to them; this would be their first choice.”

In the meantime, the Champions have made contingency plans to have an all-star team from the New York State Empire League replace the Cubans if they aren’t able to attend.

“But everyone would much rather see the Cubans,” Wolff said.
(Canadian Press)