Come June 16, when his team, the Cincinnati Reds, have a rare day off, Cuban-born pitching phenom Aroldis Chapman will be facing charges in a South Florida courtroom as a result of alleged violations of the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows redress in U.S. courts for acts committed on foreign soil.
The lawsuit accuses Chapman, who had been banned from the Cuban national team after a failed escape attempt in 2008, of framing two men for counterrevolutionary activities in order to convince Cuban sports authorities to allow him back on the national team. Specifically, the suit alleges that Chapman accused Danilo Curbelo, a visiting Cuban-American, of trying to lure him to escape. Carlos Rafael Mena Perdomo, a Dominican citizen, was also implicated in Chapman’s testimony. Curbelo and Mena were convicted in Cuba of attempted “human trafficking,” the Cuban penal code often used against those accused of assisting Cuban citizens to illegally emigrate. Curbelo is currently on house arrest in Cuba, while Mena was allowed to return to the Dominican Republic for humanitarian reasons. Chapman, meanwhile, was allowed to rejoin the national team, but a year later he successfully defected at an international tournament in the Netherlands. The suit against Chapman, which seeks $18 million in recompense, was filed by Curbelo’s and Mena’s family living in the United States.
Regardless of Chapman’s guilt or innocence, the case gives face to the challenges and temptations faced by athletes in Cuba who dream of going pro.