From Cienfuegos to LA: Yasiel Puig, Human Trafficking and “America’s Pastime”

Last week Tony Castro published an article titled “Yasiel Puig’s ties to the Zetas could spell disaster.” His lead focused on possible danger at Dodger Stadium in the wake of recent allegations in Los Angeles Magazine and ESPN’s The Magazine that the Cuban outfielder owes money to human traffickers probably linked to the dangerous drug cartel. The articles say little about new security measures in Chavez Ravine, as both the team and MLB are hesitant to speak about them, but what is very clear is that Puig and many other Cuban stars have been brought to the US by criminal organizations that thrive thanks to our anachronistic policies in relation to the island and our broken immigration system. They also highlight at the top level of “America’s pastime” the way in which violence and corruption permeate our daily lives with the promise of money and the “American dream.”

Yasiel Puig in 2013 (CREDIT: Ron Reiring)

Yasiel Puig in 2013 (CREDIT: Ron Reiring)

In our immigration debates the Cuban case holds a special place. With the so-called “wet foot-dry foot” policy (officially the Cuban Adjustment Act) begun in 1995, Cubans who make it to US soil are usually allowed to become permanent residents. On the surface it seems that they have an easier path once they enter the country. The recent Puig story, with its cast of murderous human traffickers, points in a different direction.

I will not get into the details of Puig’s saga that are well narrated in the two magazine stories. What did come as a surprise was the reach of the human trafficking networks that regularly bring Cubans to the US through Mexico and other countries. According to ESPN’s Scott Eden, Puig was smuggled by Tomás Valdez Valdivia:

The boss of a thriving alien-smuggling operation, Tomasito and his crew ferried defectors from the coasts of Cuba to either Isla Mujeres or Cancun, under prior arrangement with the migrants’ relatives in the United States, chiefly South Florida. Once those families had paid —for years, the going rate for a garden-variety smuggle of a regular Cuban civilian has been $10,000 a head— Tomasito’s crew would transport the migrants to the Mexico-Texas border, usually at Matamoros or Nuevo Laredo. There, the Cubans would take advantage of the 1995 revision to the Cuban Adjustment Act…

He further asserts that “Within South Florida’s tight-knit Cuban-émigré community there are probably tens of thousands of people who have been brought out of Cuba by Cancun-based lancheros.”

Puig’s case was particular. He would not bring in the standard $10,000. According to both reports, Miami-based Raúl Pacheco was supposed to pay the smugglers $250,000 in exchange for 20% of the player’s future salary. The supposed danger at Dodger Stadium seems to come from Pacheco’s failure to deliver on his part of the deal.

The story, as told by both lengthy magazine articles, would be a comedy of errors were there not real lives involved: from the beginning, when the smugglers couldn’t find Puig and his three companions on the Cuban coast, through their detention in a seedy hotel in Isla Mujeres when Pacheco couldn’t come up with the promised money, to their “rescue” by a rival gang of smugglers. This last “stealing” of the human cargo is what seems to have precipitated the current threats of violence in Dodger Stadium and the October 2012 murder in Cancún of Yandrys León, “principal helmsman of the cigarette boat that brought Puig and the others out of Cuba.”

There is much money at stake in the trafficking of Cuban players. As Jesse Katz reports in Los Angeles Magazine, “Since 2009, at least 20 defectors have signed MLB contracts, worth more than $300 million.” And there are many more people involved than the professional human traffickers. In order to command such high salaries, players must pass through a third country:

Although Mexico was not his ultimate destination, Puig could not afford to take a straight path to the United States. A foreign-born player who immigrates without a contract is treated as an amateur by MLB; he can negotiate only with the team that drafts him. By declaring himself a free agent before arriving, that player can entertain all comers; the difference is worth millions. Federal law, of course, bars Americans from paying money to Cubans—or “trading with the enemy”—so a ballplayer like Puig needs not only to defect but also to establish legal residency in a country that he does not actually intend to live in.

Eden reports that a $20,000 bribe helped Puig obtain Mexican residency within 15 days, allowing him to sign a $42 million contract with the Dodgers.

Along similar lines, scouts, agents and other MLB agents also play the game. Eden quotes Dodger superscout Mike Brito:

How he got from Cuba I don’t care. I don’t wanna find out either. I never ask any Cuban player that. And even if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you. Only thing we care about is when a guy is in a territory where we can sign him. Sign players and keep my mouth shut. The less you talk, the less you get in trouble.

In making his argument for the widespread role of human smugglers from Cuba, Eden also mentions the case of “El Duque” Hernández, whose sanitized official story is presented as one of heroism and determination, but which is also tainted, according to the ESPN article, with these more nefarious connections.

The threat of a Zetas attack in Dodger Stadium sounds spectacular, haunting and a bit absurd. I personally doubt that it will materialize, but this story does raise a series of important questions linking “America’s pastime” to broader issues of corruption, inequality and migration. Yasiel Puig is not your average migrant, but his case does shed light on the dangerous forces that are unleashed by a broken migration system. We might continue hearing more about Puig because he is in the sports spotlight, yet the mainstream media tells us less about the thousands upon thousands who are brought anonymously by human traffickers across our nation’s Borderland.


luisLuis Marentes is an associate professor of Spanish at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who wants to explore ways in which to communicate and learn through the new social media. His academic work has focused on Mexican and Latin@ culture in the first half of the 20th century. As a member of a Pars-Mex New England family, Luis also has a great interest in the Middle East, and would hope to help foster an international dialogue. Follow @marentesluis.

Sorry, CNN, Pelé Is Not Dead

This story comes from Fusion’s Fidel Martinez, who saw the following tweet from Anthony De Rosa:


It also showed up here:

Sure, CNN apologized through its PR department:

But still, it’s Pelé. You need to make sure:

And just to confirm, the great one was hanging with Ronaldo today on Twitter:

Yes, Mexico’s Lone Olympic Alpine Skier Will Compete in a Mariachi Costume

We got this one from Bleacher Report after Twitter follower Esteban tweeted the following story to us:

No way, we thought. But once we went to NBC’s Olympic page, we saw this:


And this:


And this (by the way, we want this):


Then we knew it HAD to be true. Mexican Prince is a mariachi outfit or to the purists, a charro one.

And this is the dude who is doing it:

Prince Hubertus von Hohenlohe might be the most interesting competitor in the Alpine skiing field at the Sochi Olympics. Having qualified in the slalom, he would be the oldest competitor in the sport at 55 years of age. Descended from the reigning dynasty of a former principality in what is now Germany, von Hohenlohe, has competed in 15 World Championships and Sochi would be his sixth Olympic Games. In Vancouver, he was the lone Mexican athlete at the Games.

As you imagine, our community had a lot to say about Prince Hubertus. You gotta love what people with money do for attention. Here are just a few of those comments:

LOL instead of screaming he should laugh like a mariachi while going down hill lol

omg i want one!! I would totally be singing as i try to learn to When I sing “aye aye aye aye canta y no llores” will probably be due to pain..LOL!! Good Luck Hubertus

hahahhaha it looks horrendous XD

I love him already!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is too cool!!! A german mexican!!

Oh, Spanish Mexico.

Drake as ARod in SNL Skit: Brilliance

Ok, in between a skit that featured Piers Morgan (Taran Killam), Chris Christie (Bobby Moynahan) and Justin Bieber (Kate McKinnon), Drake got to play ARod.


The results are brilliance. “I’m also suing steroids for being inside of me.”

Cold Open – Piers Morgan Live (Drake) – SNL 1… by IdolxMuzic

Seahawks Richard Sherman’s Only Fault Is His Humanity

For the record, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman gave the best postgame interview since the days of Muhammad Ali. Just seconds after Sherman made a clutch play against San Francisco 49er Michael Crabtree that earned Seattle a trip to the Super Bowl, Sherman was on TV, being asked by Erin Andrews about how it felt.


The response was pure gold:

As a media guy, I always thought that sports networks are always too quick to rush and get the postgame hit as quickly as possible. 99.9% of all postgame interviews are a snoozefest, and Sherman’s raw honesty was beyond refreshing.

Of course, social media jumped in a called Sherman every name in the book, and let’s not pretend race was not a part of it. What if Wes Welker did the same thing to Tom Brady? There is an excellent summary by Tommy Tomlinson that pretty much vindicates Sherman for being himself.

And then you have Sherman himself, who took to Twitter late last night to share his thoughts. First tweet is to Seattle’s fans:

Then there is this one, which to be honest with you, speaks to all the haters out there:

This one speaks to how crazy the game was. Crabtree and his 49er teammates (especially, Anquan Boldin) were talking trash all day. Stay true to yourself, Richard, who by the way is a Stanford grad.

Then there are these:

And yes, he did shake up the world:

By the way, Crabtree (the guy who lost) comes across as a sore loser when he tweeted this:

And this whole “Sherman is a thug” thing? Would a “thug” wish the best for NaVorro Bowman, whose tragic knee injury was replayed and replayed on TV? In fact, Bowman’s injury took more air time than Sherman’s own postgame words:


Richard Sherman is human, and last night during one incredibly intense game, we saw a range of emotions. What would you do if someone jawed at you for hours and then you got the last laugh? Good for Sherman for being himself. That’s what it is all about.

And in an age where sports has become corporate and boring in a lot of ways, Richard Sherman put a smile on my face. Here’s hoping more and more athletes toss away the fear of being themselves and start being themselves.

As for my final thoughts?


EDITOR’S NOTE: Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77) founded in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog,, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last two years, Julito represented the Rebeldes on CBS’ Face the NationNPR,  Univisionand The New York Times. Currently, he is a digital producer for Al Jazeera America’s The Stream. The views expressed in any of the LR columns written by Julito on this page do not reflect the editorial stance of Latino Rebels or Al Jazeera America. His opinions are his own and his alone.

The Case of Alex Rodriguez and The Things That Bothered Us About “60 Minutes” Story (VIDEO)

Last night, we caught the “60 Minutes” two-part segment about Alex Rodriguez’s major league problems with Major League Baseball.


Here is the full segment:

Granted, ARod is no saint and yes, several of the Rebeldes are Yankee fans, so we have our issues with Rodriguez. Nonetheless, is it just us or were you bothered by the following:

  1. Scott Pelley. Can you be any more sanctimonious? There is cheating in baseball! Wow. It seems as Pelley is stuck in 2009. Hey, Scott, baseball players cheat, but fans still go to games. Integrity of the game? Why didn’t you ask MLB that very same question? By the way, most baseball fans are not “outraged” as you claim. It is sad to see how you let MLB get off the hook (see below).
  2. Ok, Anthony Bosch? You have to give it up for his honesty (yeah, I did it), but the dude has been doing this for years. Did he need to cry? He did make a point that PEDs are “part of baseball,” but aren’t you an enabler, too? Here’s a thought: you should have never done it, but we’re sure the allure of hanging with pro players was too strong, given that you started doing this to young high school players.
  3. Speaking of Pelley, you need a Spanish editor. A COJOTE? COJOTE? Please stop saying cojote. And while you are it, that Spanish editor could have told you that it is spelled cohetes.
  4. MLB has power. Did you see who they hired to investigate this? Also, looks like MLB is like the FBI now, offering protection for witnesses. They will pay for information to make them look better. MLB is the biggest enabler going in all this.
  5. The whole “seedy Miami” motif in the second part of the segment. Is this “60 Minutes” or “Scarface?”
  6. And as for Rodriguez? ARod, give it up. You have made millions. Millions. Walk away and take your punishment. Very few are sympathetic to you, and it’s clear to us that your ego is huge.

By the way, this whole thing pissed off the players union (MLBPA), as the following statement shows:

It is unfortunate that Major League Baseball apparently lacks faith in the integrity and finality of the arbitrator’s decision and our Joint Drug Agreement, such that it could not resist the temptation to publicly pile-on against Alex Rodriguez It is equally troubling that the MLB-appointed Panel Arbitrator will himself be appearing in the “60 Minutes” segment, and that Tony Bosch, MLB’s principal witness, is appearing on the program with MLB’s blessing.

MLB’s post-decision rush to the media is inconsistent with our collectively-bargained arbitration process, in general, as well as the confidentiality and credibility of the Joint Drug Agreement, in particular. After learning of tonight’s “60 Minutes” segment, Players have expressed anger over, among other things, MLB’s inability to let the result of yesterday’s decision speak for itself. As a result, the Players Association is considering all legal options available to remedy any breaches committed by MLB.

MLB responded to MLBPA, by the way:

We have notified the Major League Baseball Players Association on numerous occasions that we intended to respond to all of the attacks on the integrity of our Joint Drug Program. Those attacks continued yet again yesterday with Mr. Rodriguez’s statement. Out of respect to the grievance process and at the request of the MLBPA, we waited until a decision was rendered to make our response.

It is ironic that the MLBPA is complaining about MLB’s participation in this program given that Mr. Rodriguez’s lawyer is also participating in the show.

As to Mr. Bosch’s appearance, he is not controlled by us and is entitled to speak however he chooses about his interactions with Mr. Rodriguez.

At this stage, everyone gets a #NoMames, because in the end, baseball fans have become so cynical, most of us really don’t care about the reputation of a very rich ballplayer whose worried about his reputation. Take a number, ARod.

Yasiel Puig’s Not So Excellent Moment (VIDEO)

So this week the dashboard video showing Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig getting arrested in Florida for reckless driving was released.


Here it is. Along with what NBC Los Angeles reported:

Footage shows the trooper pull Puig over and scold him for putting the lives of his passengers and other drivers at risk.

“(Puig) is probably going to jail, I’m going to tell you that right now,” the trooper tells the occupants of the car.

When asked why, the trooper says, “Why? For reckless (driving) — 110 miles an hour? One, two, three lives at risk? … You tell me.”

A short moment later, the trooper asks the Cuban native in Spanish, “Is this your mother?”

When Puig responds that she is, the trooper — apparently surprised by the answer — says in English, “Oh, you’re going to jail.”

The trooper orders Puig to step out of the car. Puig reluctantly emerges from the car and is handcuffed.

“Sir, please don’t do this to me,” Puig tells the trooper in Spanish after being taken into custody. He is later heard cursing while sitting in the back of the patrol car.

Now maybe NBC Los Angeles is not seeing the same video we saw, but yeah we know that Puig messed up BIG TIME, but the NBC report makes it seem like Puig was insane or evil or uncooperative.

Listen, Puig got caught, he got arrested and he looked pretty contrite and embarrassed by it all. You can easily tell that by his tone in Spanish, which was respectful to the trooper, who to be honest with you, was a bit over the top at times.

And did you hear any curses from the video NBC Los Angeles displayed? Did you?

We find it hard to believe that a Los Angeles news station can’t brush up on its Spanish some more.

And this isn’t “outrage” here. Puig was speeding and it was reckless, but let’s not paint him as some guy who was being resentful and angry about it all.

Victim Blaming Dominates Jameis Winston Verdict Reaction

MLS to “Refrain From Providing Comment” on Univision Pocahontas Models Posing with MLS Cup

This past Sunday we got a tweet tip about a photo taken on the set of Univision’s “República Deportiva” showing the popular sports program’s two Senadora models dressed in Pocahontas outfits next to the MLS Cup.

After finding out that the photo was deleted from Twitter (and no one knows why), we were able to still find the image, pictured below. On the left is Alba Galindo and on the right is Carolina Macallister. They are both dressed in hypersexualized Pocahontas costumes, and from what we can gather (based on Galindo’s tweets), they dressed like that because it was Thanksgiving.


As they say, the optics are not that good for MLS, at least that is what people who are familiar with the league have told us. In conversations we had with sources, the picture above was not taken by Univision or “República Deportiva,” it was taken by an individual contracted by the MLS to do press and promotion.

So we reached out to MLS yesterday (we have removed any personal contact information on this thread):

We noticed that MLS EVP of Corporate Comm tweeted some reaction, but we were hoping to connect with someone, since we have information that the photo was actually taken by a MLS press person contracted by the league and not Univision.

We have a few questions and we’re hoping to talk with someone this morning.

This is what we got back:

We appreciate your inquiry and interest in Major League Soccer. We will refrain from providing comment on this topic.

Best regards,


Dan Courtemanche
Executive Vice President, Communications
Major League Soccer

So we followed up:

Thank you. Is there a reason why you choose to refrain from commenting on this topic? We have a source saying that an MLS press person under contract by the league took the picture, it was posted on the Univision Rep Dep Twitter and then it was deleted.

Is this accurate? Was the picture taken and sanctioned/approved by MLS?

Am just doing my job and following up as to why the picture was deleted, who deleted it, did MLS ask it to be delete it and why did an MLS contracted press person take the picture in the first place.

Ok we will report that since we have confirmation that the photo came from an MLS contractor doing press and not from Univision. We will then report than MLS has refrained from comment as your email states. Thanks.

And we will refer to your tweets as well as other MLS tweets about this. Thank you for your help.

The reply we got back:

Thank you.

Dan Courtemanche
Executive Vice President, Communications
Major League Soccer

For the record this is what Courtemanche tweeted out on Sunday:

Part of the criticism directed at MLS has to do with its’ “Don’t Cross the Line” campaign, which states, “promotes unity, respect, fair play, equality and acceptance, will be revealed throughout the 2013 MLS season. Major League Soccer is committed to providing an environment in which clubs, coaches, players, fans and partners are treated with dignity and respect.” Many have told us that the Pocahontas picture and MLS’ decision “refrain from providing comment” goes against the very same campaign they are promoting.

It’s Friday, and This Is How We Feel

Viernes, familia.


Hit it.