How a boxer fighting in Manchester tonight typifies the horrors of Fidel’s Cuba

Anyone with a slight interest in UK Boxing will probably be watching the unstoppable Anthony Joshua (17 wins, 0 losses, 17 KOs) defend his IBF heavyweight title tonight and almost certainly demolish Erik Molina. However, on the undercard is another heavyweight, Luis Ortiz, known as the “Real King Kong”, who has an equally impressive record (26 wins, 0 losses, 22 KOs). He’s quite interesting because Cuba has produced many great boxers, but no great heavyweights – Ortiz is considered the greatest ever Cuban heavyweight.

As you may know, despite producing legendary boxers, the Stalinist regime in Cuba forbids them from turning professional, so they have to stay amateurs for the rest of their lives – or defect.

Ortiz took the decision to defect to the USA in 2009, not to secure a lucrative professional contract, but to able to pay for his daughter’s illness. Despite the Cuban propaganda, the healthcare system in Cuba is terrible. Their answer to Ortiz’s little girl being born with necrosis in one of her fingers, despite everywhere else in the world being able to treat this, the only answer from Cuban doctors was to amputate. Ortiz was left with two choices, stay in Cuba, fight as an amateur for the rest of his life, stay in relative poverty and have his baby daughter go her life without a finger or risk his and his family’s life by making a perilous journey to America where he can make an incredible living for his world class talents and his daughter doesn’t have to have a finger cut off and face a lifetime of backwards medical practice. 

Needless to say Ortiz took his young family on a dangerous high-speed boat journey through the Gulf of Mexico to America, has become a world boxing star, his daughter has fully recovered, her finger has been saved and her illness shows no sign of exasperating.

Ortiz’s story typifies Fidel and post-Fidel Cuba. Like all Communist dictators they lie about their achievements and hide their failures. The idea of Cuba may sound good for UK socialists, but the reality of Cuba is hell for ordinary Cubans.

* Charles Lawley is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Chapel & Hope Valley in the Derbyshire County Council Elections in 2017. He works for a humanitarian aid NGO.

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  • William Ross 10th Dec '16 - 3:18pm

    Well said Charles Lawley! More power to your punch my friend! My wife is Latin American and I know the lies of the Revolution personally.

    Muere Communismo!

    Viva la Cuba libre!

  • “Cuba has produced many great boxers, but no great heavyweights”


  • An article so full of holes it’s difficult to know where to begin.

    By way of example,.. if your lifestyle is susceptible to HIV infection, there is a very expensive drug called PrEP to protect yourself. If you were a very wealthy boxer, who happened to be gay, no doubt you could afford to protect yourself by paying for this very expensive drug privately. For everyone else however, they have to rely on the ability of their individual countries health care system to fund it.?

    So what does the article tell us that we didn’t already know.?

    That no matter the political system you reside under,..the greater your wealth, the better the health. Who’d a thunk it.?

  • Ed Shepherd 10th Dec '16 - 5:44pm

    Muhammed Ali was given a five year prison sentence for bravely refusing to fight against North Vietnam. Many great boxers in the USA were exploited and died in poverty. Boxers who never made the grade would often end up on skid row and would perhaps have been better off in Cuba…Racism and gangsterism were just one of the many problems that boxers in the USA have suffered from. I wonder if boxers in neighbouring Caribean islands are any better off than those in Cuba? If the current regime in Cuba falls, will the people there end up better off or will racism and gangsterism return to that island?

  • Peter Martin 10th Dec '16 - 7:17pm

    Despite the Cuban propaganda, the healthcare system in Cuba is terrible.

    So we might expect infant mortality in Cuba to be much higher than in neighbouring countries?

    But when we check the CIA’s index we find that infant mortality ( defined on the basis of deaths per 1000 live births ) is 4.63 – Slightly better than New Zealand and slightly worse than Canada. Much better than the USA.

    So maybe they focus too much attention on the very young and aren’t concerned about the elderly?

    No. The life expectancy in Cuba is 79.1 years. Just about exactly what it is in America too.

    We all might have legitimate criticisms to make of the Cuban political system. But let’s have an informed debate, based on factual information, rather than just making it up to suit our purposes.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Dec '16 - 7:39pm

    Charles this is extraordinary ! A human interest story for all !

    I have very little interest in boxing but very strong interest in my fellow human beings , and my fellow Liberal Democrats and anyone with some sense ! And the sense of complacency on Cuba and Castro is senseless ! The comments by Trudeau, Corbyn, McDonnell, Livingston, Galloway , are laughable in many ways, if they are not taken too seriously ,that is , in which case they are quite frankly sad !

    Castro had a great beard . That was the extent of his liberalism !

  • My feelings towards boxing veer more towards antipathy than anything else. However, I found this story very interesting. You have to admire his determination to escape for the sake of his family.

    My first thought when I read it was that if Luis had been in a more mundane occupation, getting health care in the US would have been much more difficult.

    While Peter points to statistics to suggest that the Cuban healthcare system is doing fine, the fact that it wasn’t able to offer treatment to this young girl that would have saved her finger is not a good thing.

    However, the US system, even with Obama’s reforms, still provides healthcare based on ability to pay, and that is simply unacceptable.

  • Jayne Mansfield 10th Dec '16 - 9:35pm

    What a strange story.

    I am not sure where you got the story that Ortiz made the dangerous journey to America etc. May I refer you to a Question and Answer session Ortiz, (if it is the same Ortiz you mention), gave in 2012.

    Sorry my link doesn’t work but just google,

    Q and A with Luis ‘El Mercedez’ Ortiz on 15

  • A couple of pieces saying he left his family in Cuba whilst pursuing his boxing career with the intention (seemingly since fulfilled) that they would follow him)

  • Jayne Mansfield 10th Dec '16 - 10:39pm

    The interview with Ortiz was given in 2011 not as I mis- typed 2012.

  • Jayne Mansfield 10th Dec '16 - 11:09pm

    @ Hywel,
    Indeed.It is well known that he made the journey to America alone.

    In the interview I refer to, he says that he left Cuba because he had a dream to be champion of the world, and makes no reference to his daughter’s medical history in Cuba, simply that he misses her and hopes to bring his wife and daughter to America one day.

    The interview was in 2011.

  • I must say I share Caron’s antipathy to boxing – particularly since the recent tragic death of a boxer here in Scotland. The prospect of a 37 year old overweight heavyweight fighting for a living is rather sad.

    I’m afraid the sceptic in me finds the original story about the child questionable, especially given Hywell’s sources. The tenor of Charles’ article also has more than a touch of pejorative bromide about it and fails to completely convince.

  • Mick Taylor 11th Dec '16 - 1:25am

    Cuba has many faults, but it’s not a capitalist country so one might expect differences from the accepted (?) norms here.
    What Cuba has got right is health care and education. And whatever you think about the Castros, the are/were never in it for wealth and exploitation of their people. Human rights never good and many things not available, but a much more equal society that we have.
    LDV needs a more nuanced approach to Castro and the Cuban revolution, which should not begin and end with human rights and summary execution. [By the way much of the condemnation and accusations have come from the US and from anti Castro Cubans, known for their right wing views, so they should be examined more carefully than by some who have written about Castro in recent weeks on LDV]

  • Andrew McCaig 11th Dec '16 - 5:24am

    Well, usually I try to refrain from commenting on Castro…
    But I do prefer global measures like infant mortality rates to anecdotal stories (which possibly are wrong anyway from posts above).
    Castro was certainly no worse than his predecessor, but where the USA backed Batista to the hilt, they did their very best to make Castro’s Cuba fail in many ways over many decades.. and yet somehow Castro stayed around and seemingly was very popular in Cuba. Condemn him for his repressions by all means, but give him some credit for the things he did well, healthcare being one of them.
    Btw a friend of mine just had a toe amputated for necrosis. It is often the safest treatment…

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 11th Dec '16 - 8:01am

    I’m so glad Ortiz and his family managed to escape to America, and that his daughter has made a full recovery.
    I know this isn’t really the point the article is trying to make, but we should remember that, for Ortiz, the danger did not end with his family’s safe arrival in America. To secure the health and well-being of his daughter, he may well have forfeited his own. Every fight he takes part in, he risks brain injury or even death.
    Is it time to ban boxing? I know it will be argued that boxers are adults who have chosen to take part, and that there are dangers in all sports. But boxing is the only sport in which the actual object of the game is to injure one’s opponent. And for Ortiz, for whom professional boxing seemed the only way to save his family from poverty and his daughter from illness, it was not exactly a free choice.

  • Jayne Mansfield 11th Dec '16 - 10:26am

    @ Catherine Jane Liston,
    I am not sure where you got your information that Luis Ortis’s daughter has made a full recovery. Sadly, all the available information seems to be that she has an incurable condition.

    I share your concern about boxing. Watching young men ( and now young women) , in particular those from poor backgrounds who see it as a route out of poverty, inflicting violence upon each other and calling it ‘sport’, , says something particularly unpleasant about the society in which it takes place.

  • Denis Mollison 11th Dec '16 - 11:16am

    First, any country that bans professional boxing has my sympathy.

    But as to the main thrust of this article:
    “Ortiz’s story typifies Fidel and post-Fidel Cuba”
    No, it does not, it trivialises them.

    To understand Cuba, you need to recognise what Castro replaced: a far more bloody and repressive regime that was supported by the USA because it suited its economic interests.
    On taking power, Castro made friendly overtures towards the USA: the response was covert warfare, innumerable assassination attempts on Castro’s life, and a stringent – and illegal – economic embargo for over 50 years. This was not a situation in which he could allow full democratic freedom, as examples elsewhere in Latin America sadly show.

    I recommend Glen Newey’s `The Clean Hands Problem’, Noam Chomsky’s `Terrorizing Cuba’, and the Huffington Post’s `Why Nelson Mandela loved Fidel Castro’.

  • Peter Martin 11th Dec '16 - 11:19am

    I’m not sure why Cuba bans professional boxing. But there is case for banning it here too. Or at the very least insisting on the same safety standards as have been adopted in amateur boxing. That means the use of compulsory headguards and much shorter fight times. Referees, at the amateur level, are much quicker to stop a fight once a boxer gets into trouble. It’s a matter of opinion, of course, but I would say the risks at the amateur level are acceptably low. So we could make a case for the Cuban policy.


    I didn’t say that the Cuban health system was “doing fine”. I was saying that the statistics showed that it wasn’t “terrible”. “Terrible” would be patients dying from entirely preventable, curable diseases and easily operable conditions – like appendicitis. There are plenty of countries where that does happen as we all know. But not in Cuba.

    I think we need to accept that Cuba needs to be encouraged to complete its revolution and introduce a measure of democracy into the system. I’d have a big problem, personally, with the restrictions imposed on the use of the internet!

  • Whatever the horrors and limitations of Cuba under Fidel Castro, I do not think they are best represented by a boxer having to stay amateur. Or at least they do as much as the boxer crossing into America and entering a professional world of brutality, corruption and flaunting of wealth while other starve represents the complexity of capitalism.

    The strongest and bravest leaders will be able to comment on both the good and bad under Castro, not necessarily in equal measure but with equal compassion to those impacted.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Dec '16 - 2:12pm

    This is a great informative article. I watch a lot of boxing but I actually have a love-hate relationship with combat sports. I knew Ortiz was Cuban but I didn’t know this backstory. I presumed he just defected to make money, like many others down the years.

    Policy wise the party seems to have struck the right note on Castro (I’m not a fan of his) and when it comes to combat sports I support adult matches but we should increase the minimim age that kids can box, which is currently 10.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Dec '16 - 6:09pm

    Castro did exploit Cuba , he lived like a secret rich man , had the best of everything while his compatriots had rations !

    The alternative was to do what the wretched Pinochet even did after a couple of decades. Submit to election and test opinion , and risk losing , which the Chilian dictator did , and resigned having been chucked out at the election !

    Castro did a lot of good in healthcare. But literacy is hardly worth bragging over when the government does not let the people read what it wants to ! Nearly all books not in keeping with Fidelismoism are proscribed !

  • Ed Shepherd 11th Dec '16 - 6:26pm

    If they had elections in Cuba, would they really be democratic or would they be manipulated by the USA?

  • To understand Cuba, you need to recognise what Castro replaced: a far more bloody and repressive regime that was supported by the USA because it suited its economic interests.

    But when we check the CIA’s index…

    Cuba’s back story is repeated across many central american countries. What I found saddening, was how much of the mainstream media happily parroted the official US/UK government line, without questioning why it differed so much from the information the CIA was giving out…

  • A completely ill informed article…..LDV, if you allow such threads, at least ensure that they are factual

    …………………. Luis Ortiz, known as the “Real King Kong”, who has an equally impressive record (26 wins, 0 losses, 22 KOs)……….

    Almost all these wins have been against complete unknowns and never were’s…,.Many top fighters won’t even consider fighting him

    ……………..He’s quite interesting because Cuba has produced many great boxers, but no great heavyweights…………..


    ……………..Ortiz is considered the greatest ever Cuban heavyweight…………..

    No he’s not…He has never held an Olympic or AWC title…On turning professional he was stripped of his interim World title after failing a drugs test…

    …………..Ortiz took his young family on a dangerous high-speed boat journey through the Gulf of Mexico to America, has become a world boxing star, his daughter has fully recovered, her finger has been saved and her illness shows no sign of exasperating………

    None of which is true…

  • Malcolm Todd 12th Dec '16 - 4:52pm

    So, we’ve got an article with zero sources for very weighty claims, considerable doubt cast on most of it (with supporting evidence) and as far as I can see no attempt by the author, over 48 hours later, to back it up.

    I smell fish.

  • I just want to echo some of the comments above regarding boxing as a `sport`. I regard the `sweet science` of pugilism to be neither sweet nor scientific. However,I always feel out on a limb when I raise this because it is so easy to get stereotyped as some sort of New Age flake or P.C Health ansd safety loon, but I am neither. I do accept the need for competitive sports which involve a certain amount of aggression and danger.(I don’t even mind wrestling – as this involves a certain amount of theate and even comedy).
    Boxing seems to me to be different however, as it fetishises person on person violence in a situation where the main point is to disable – rahter than just win against -one’s opponent. The British Medical Association has warned against the dangers of boxing, and we have banned dog fighting as a being blood sport – and yet `human fighting` is seen as an unquestionable part of our culture somehow.
    I would not favour banning boxing, but he kind of society I want to live in would withdraw state support from boxing as a sport – rather like, for whatever reason, Cuba did and (as I undersand it) many Scandanavian countries still do.

  • Shaun Whitfield 17th Dec '16 - 11:11am

    “Cuba has produced many great boxers, but no great heavyweights”

    Oh dear! I suggest the author looks up Teofilo Stevenson and gets his facts right. Only one of three boxers to win three Olympic Golds (all at…erm… heavyweight). He was considered to be up there with Muhammad Ali and in the 1970’s American promoters were desperate for him to turn professional and fight Ali. I am afraid I lost any confidence in the veracity of this article when I spotted this first howler. Please exercise more quality control before publishing such articles.

  • Shaun Whitfield 17th Dec ’16 – 11:11am……… Please exercise more quality control before publishing such articles………

    The ‘Boxing’ bit was just a smokescreen to vilify Castro; I note those who had already welcomed Castro’s demise agreed with the author without even checking the facts…

  • Pablo Aguila 20th Dec '16 - 7:06am

    In 1991, my 6-month-old son had an infection in his toes. I brought him to “the best” pediatricians in two different hospitals in Havana City, and both refused the risk. I ended up being “the nurse” in an operation a doctor accepted after he pointed out that, either we used surgery, or my boy could die.
    And we saved him, NOT THE REVOLUTION.
    As to Ortiz, yes, he is the best Cuban heavyweight. Stevenson and Savon never fought professionally, and both had glass chins. Juan Carlos Gomez, Solis, although professional boxers, never showed the progress and the technique of Ortiz. And for someone who alleged Ortiz did not win over a real fighter, just watch his fight vs Jennings — one of the best heavyweights today.

  • Richard Underhill 25th Dec '16 - 11:06am

    Boxing is legalised fighting. Even Muhammed Ali got hit. Not a sport, despite his Olympic gold medal.
    Fidel Castro’s teeth were stained, presumably from tobacco, from the cigar industry.

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