Low blow for Cuba

HAVANA - Fidel Castro suggested on Monday that Cuba's two-time Olympic boxing champion Guillermo Rigondeaux and a teammate who went missing at the Pan American Games in Brazil had defected, saying they were "paid up with US bills".

HAVANA - Fidel Castro suggested on Monday that Cuba's two-time Olympic boxing champion Guillermo Rigondeaux and a teammate who went missing at the Pan American Games in Brazil had defected, saying they were "paid up with US bills".

Rigondeaux failed to make the weigh-in on Sunday for the bantamweight division quarterfinal bout against Mexico's Carlos Cuadras in Rio de Janeiro.

Cuban teammate Erislandy Lara did not show for his fight against Jamaica's Ricardo Smith in the welterweight division.

In an essay distributed by e-mail, Castro said: "Treason for money is one of the favourite arms of the United States to destroy Cuba's resistance."

The 80-year-old is recuperating from emergency intestinal surgery that forced him to step down in favour of a provisional government headed by his younger brother almost a year ago.

He wrote that on Sunday Cuban officials received "the sad news that two of the most prominent athletes of Cuban boxing" missed their weigh-ins.

"They were simply knocked down with a blow straight to the chin, paid up with US bills," Castro wrote in the latest of essays, known as "Reflections of the Commander-in-Chief", that he has begun penning every few days.

"No protection count was needed," the former leader added.

A protection count comes in amateur boxing when one fighter is clearly about to be knocked down. A referee can step in and give him a protective count to protect against serious injury.

Both Rigondeaux and Lara were disqualified and their opponents advanced to the semifinals.

Castro suggested that they would seek political asylum in Brazil and that it has long been clear that "the final destination for mercenary athletes is a society of consumerism".

Rigondeaux won the Olympic gold in 2000 and holds the dual titles of Olympic and world champion in the bantamweight class.

He became Cuba's top competitive boxer with the retirement of Mario Kindelan in 2004, and was looking for his third Pan Ams title. - Sapa-AP

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