IN August, 5,000 Western hemisphere athletes, including 700 from the United States, will descend on Cuba for the 1992 Pan American Games. Meanwhile, 10,000 ``volunteer'' workers (including Cuban athletes) are scrambling to complete the construction, or refurbishing, of 15 sports venues and a new 55-building athletic village.
Why is a country in dire economic straits forking out at least $75 million (according to one Cuban official) to host the games?
``It is a sacred commitment we have to honor,'' explained sports-loving President Fidel Castro at a recent impromptu press conference. When Cuba committed to holding the games in 1986, the Soviet Union and the East bloc were still intact. There was no Gulf crisis, Mr. Castro said. ``If the topic of holding the Pan Am games were raised now, we probably wouldn't make such an international commitment.''
At this point, the expenditures have already been made. Besides, adds the gray-bearded leader, ``every year we invest more in sports than what we invested in the Pan Am games.''
The Capital Cities/ABC television network tried to pay Cuba $8.7 million for broadcast rights to the games. But the US Treasury Department said that would violate the US trade embargo.
``So, we gave [broadcast rights] to the ABC and TBS [Turner Broadcasting System] free of charge,'' says Jos'e Ramon Fern'andez, president of the Pan Am organizing committee and part of Castro's inner circle.
An ABC spokeswoman says the network struck a deal with the Treasury Department to pay Cuba only for ``goods and services'' provided by Cuba to ABC's 330 production personal during the games. Cuba will receive $1.2 million to $1.3 million, according to industry press reports.