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Posted February 20, 2004 by publisher in Cuban Sports

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Associated Press

For the second straight season, Jose Contreras began spring training separated from his family.

His wife and two daughters remain in Cuba, which has denied them permission to leave the country.

Contreras, a former star pitcher on Cuba’s national team, defected in 2002 and signed with the New York Yankees. Nicaragua twice has granted Contreras’ family visas only to have the Cuban government deny permission for the family to leave the country.

While pitching in Cuba, Contreras occasionally would eat with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and the pair would talk often on by telephone.

“I think he’s disappointed in the decision I made, and he’s taking it out on my family,” Contreras said Thursday through an interpreter. “It bothers me. During eight years, I gave all I had for the team and my country. If they thought about that, they would think to release my family.”

Contreras said his family was informed 18 months ago that it would have to wait five years for a white card, a document required to leave the island nation.

“It’s an injustice what they’re doing to my family, just because I decided to leave,” Contreras said. “I don’t think the family should have to pay. A number of other Cuban athletes have left the country, and they’ve been able to get their families out in eight, nine months. I actually thought they would be here (now).

“The only thing I would say I regret is not leaving 20 years earlier,” Contreras said.

The Yankees have reviewed the matter with their immigration lawyer.

“Legally there is nothing we can do,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “The publicity from this might provide an opportunity for the people in the Cuban government to reconsider. It’s the only hope I can sent him.”

Yankees manager Joe Torre said Contreras was put in a “horrible” situation because of the refusal.

“It’s got to be tough,” Torre said. “You’ve waited this long and it still hasn’t happened. Those are the sides of baseball that a lot of people don’t think about.”

Contreras said his wife, Miriam, has been arrested twice by Cuban authorities. He is able to communicate with her and his children, 3-year old Naylenis and 11-year old Naylan, daily by phone.

“I have peace in my heart,” Contreras said. “I know I’m going to get them here somehow. One way or another, we will be reunited.”

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