J. J. A. - Havana - 09/08/2007
"I wouldn't say that what they did is treason -- it's ignorance. And I say this to you because those who commit treason cannot be forgiven," says the revolutionary Teófilo Stevenson, the greatest amateur boxer of all times, about the defection of Guillermo Rigondeaux and Erislandy Lara for a contract of half a million euros. The modest house of the 55-years-old ex-pugilist, Fidelista to the core, contains the medals, photographs, and memories of his brilliant career: he fought 321 bouts, won 301, and was never defeated by knockout. "They were born when the Cuban Government stabilized itself and guaranteed education to all, their sports training, the facilities that they enjoyed. I don't understand what they did."
-- It's because a lot of money was given to them.
-- But money is not everything. I was offered a great deal. And I refused it for all those reasons that I am giving you now. They offered me a million dollars.
Stevenson, married with two children, 1.90 meters tall, who today serves as a sports representative, won Olympic gold medals (Munich 1972, Montreal 1976, and Moscow 1980) and several world championships. He considers himself as a person of humble origin, son of Antillean immigrants, but his daughter has been able to pursue two university degrees. "It pains me to think what happened [with the two defectors], for their family, for the Cuban people who loved them so much, for the lessons that they received. What about all the love, all the respect that their people felt towards them?"
Inevitably, it is necessary to look back, to 1972 when famous international promoters, the North American Don King among them, approached him to offer him a professional boxing career. "There was an Argentinean, the trainer of Óscar Ringo Bonavena (Argentine boxing champion, murdered in 1976), who said to me: if Bonavena is worth 100,000 or 200,000 dollars, you look like millions of dollars." He was one of the first who tempted him. "Others came, who knows from what countries. And there was Don King, who came to visit me at the Madison Square Garden." "Right now I think about the million dollars or the five million dollars [that I could have obtained], and that's not important," he says. "For me, more important are the love that people give me in Cuba and millions of revolutionaries who are working in the world to make it a better place."
JG: There are people in this world who have something that many capitalists do not have: dignity. Teofilo Stevenson is such a person. They also offered the father of Elian Gonzalez a million dollars. Juan Miguel Gonzalez refused it and returned to Cuba with his son.