The tale of a runaway Cuban baseball player illustrates a human smuggling route from the Communist island to the US, and how Mexico's brutal Zetas may profit from the trade.
According to the expose by LA Magazine, LA Dodgers star Yasiel Puig travelled to the United States via Mexico in 2012 with the help of Cuban-Americans and a human smuggling ring with ties to Los Zetas.
The investigation reported that Miami-based Cuban-American Raul Pacheco financed the deal as part of an agreement with Puig entitling him to 20 percent of the sportsman's future Major League Baseball (MLB) contracts. The smugglers reportedly paid a criminal tax -- known as "piso" -- to the Zetas to operate.
According to the investigation, the smuggling route is a common one for Cuban émigré sportspeople seeking more lucrative negotiations with US sports teams as "free agents," as opposed to arriving to the United States and being picked by a team as an amateur.
After staying on an island off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula for a month while his smugglers haggled with Pacheco over the price, Puig was transport to Mexico City where he was assessed by a Dodgers scout and offered a $42 million 7-year contract -- the largest ever offered to a runaway Cuban baseball player.
InSight Crime Analysis
While subsequent reports have offered conflicting accounts of the Zetas' involvement in Puig's journey -- with Excelsior even claiming the Zetas had taken over human smuggling routes previously run by the "Cuban-American Mafia" -- the connection seems a simple case of the Zetas taxing profits for criminal activity in areas under their control -- a classic element of the group's modus operandi based around territorial control and criminal franchising.
SEE ALSO: Zetas News and Profile
Yet regardless of the level of the Zetas involvement, the case highlights how MLB regulations can encourage human smuggling that funds a violent cartel responsible for massive drug consignments entering the United States.
As the investigation points out, MLB teams work in a legal gray area, with the Cuban's required to "establish residency" in a third country before entering negotiations -- something that Puig is unlikely to have done in the short time he spent in Mexico.
With teams sending scouts to negotiate contracts in Mexico, and therefore tacitly complicit in this trade, it raises the question of whether Puig's case will serve as a wakeup call for MLB chiefs.
But with a long line of similar cases involving Cuban baseball players, and the MLB's history of inadequate action in the case of other controversial practices, it may fall to a higher authority to institute the type of change necessary to put an end to this trade.