Continued from page 1

Mr. Gregory has kept in touch with Sydney by phone and video letters over the years, and sent money to support her upbringing.

He hasn’t booked a plane ticket home to see the girl who is his only child, preferring to wait and see how the new rules are applied.

“I’m taking this calmly. I’m going to wait for [summer school] vacation to go,” Mr. Gregory, 41, said by phone from Rome, where he teaches fencing to children. “Still, I’m going to see my daughter. I’ve been waiting for this a long time.”

Mr. Gregory’s wait-and-see attitude hasn’t stopped his mother, Maria Victoria Gil, from preparing for his return. She recently removed the furniture from her living room and bought paint to spruce up the room for his visit.

“Finally, the ice will be broken.” Ms. Gil exclaimed, with tears in her eyes. “Elvis is going to come. His family, his friends and above all my granddaughter Sydney will receive him with open arms.”

‘Excited and happy’

Defection is a highly sensitive topic on the island, and has splintered families for years and even decades.

The names of baseball players who defect suddenly disappear from newspapers. Except for gossip on the streets about their Major League exploits, it’s almost as if they never existed.

Cuban authorities denied the late Grammy-winning salsa singer Celia Cruz permission to return to the island for her mother’s funeral two years after she defected during a 1960 visit to Mexico and moved to the United States.

Before her death in 2003, Cruz often lamented that she never was able to return to Cuba, where her songs are never played on the radio or TV.

In the past 20 years, hundreds of ballplayers have left Cuba along with many more athletes from Olympic sports including volleyball, boxing, and track and field.

Just last month, several soccer players disappeared before a World Cup qualifier in Toronto, forcing Cuba to field a team of just 11 players with no substitutes available.

Then there are the medical professionals who never returned from international missions to treat the poor in other countries, and the ballet stars who left for careers in more innovative companies abroad.

Other defectors include the 43 members of the Havana Night Club dance revue who sought political asylum after leaving in 2004 to perform in Las Vegas.

“We had been waiting for this, but in truth I didn’t think it would happen so quickly,” said Estrella Rivera, mother of Ihosvany Hernandez, a former national volleyball team captain who defected in 2001.

Story Continues →