Two Cuban volleyball players defect to US: media

HAVANA (AFP) - Two players from the Cuban men's volleyball team have sought asylum during a tournament in the United States, triggering "surprise and indignation" among teammates, Cuban media reported.

Felix Chapman and Inovel Romero defected at dawn Tuesday, according to the Trabajadores weekly, becoming just the latest Cuban athletes to do so.

From Detroit, the Cuban team traveled on Wednesday to Mendoza, Argentina to play on Friday and Saturday against the national team.

Defections of Cuban athletes have increased in recent years, mainly in baseball and volleyball.

President Raul Castro's government began allowing athletes to sign with foreign teams in 2013 for the first time since 1961, two years after the Cuban Revolution.

About a dozen baseball players have signed with teams in Canada, Japan and Mexico.

Since December 17, when Castro and US President Barack Obama announced a historic thaw after more than five decades of enmity, both US teams and Cuban players have been hoping the island's baseball talent will finally be able to join the Major Leagues without fleeing illegally.

But while Obama has relaxed certain restrictions on travel to and from the island, the trade and financial embargo the US has imposed since 1962 still means Cuban baseball and volleyball players cannot play in the United States without defecting.

The Cuban volleyball team was among the best for more than three decades, but is now experiencing its worst bout due to the exodus of its biggest stars.

bur-cb/oh/pst US-Cuba-volleyballAFP 281857 GMT MAY 15