A fascinating story at the Chicago Tribune today about Aroldis Chapman. It covers the 15 month period in between Chapman’s initial attempt to defect from Cuba in 2008 and his ultimately successful effort the following year. It also covers, in depth, the consequences suffered by those who allegedly tried to help Chapman in 2008.
After the 2008 attempt — which never even made it out to the water — Chapman was banned from the Cuban national team and was barred from playing in the 2008 Olympics. During this time he had a conversation with a couple of men who, according to Chapman, offered to help him defect. They claim they did not discuss such things. Either way, the men were arrested and Chapman and his father swore out the complaints. Chapman eventually testified against the men and they were sentenced to prison in deplorable conditions which included torture, maggot-infested food and various other means of mistreatment at the hands of the Castro regime.
The men were eventually released and, eventually, sued Chapman for falsely testifying against them. The U.S. judge found in a preliminary ruling that Chapman misled the Cuban court by claiming he had no intention of defecting again when, in fact, he did and said so subsequently. Chapman and the men he sent to prison settled the case and their lives, however derailed they had been, went on.
One of the people who ended up in prison because of Chapman’s testimony will not talk about it at all due to the settlement and because of how dark a period in his life his time in prison in Cuba was. Another understands that Chapman had little choice but to cooperate with Cuban officials. That he was a scared, desperate and manipulated young man.
There is certainly truth to that. The moral and ethical calculus we all bring to bear on such a situation may lead us to feel like Chapman sold these men out and that it was wrong, without reservation. Given the presence of an authoritarian state, however, that calculus is thrown out of whack. It’s still likely that Chapman did these men wrong in some respects, but even this well-reported story is undoubtedly missing some key details and none of us can say what we’d do if we were in Chapman’s shoes.
All we can say is that, today, those men are going on with their lives in the United States, trying to make the best of it after losing several years in hell. And Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, goes on with his, as the star closer for the Chicago Cubs.