HAVANA: Cuba’s national baseball team returned on Monday to Havana from the under-23 World Cup with only half its squad after a record 12 players defected at the tournament in Mexico. Cuba finished fourth in the tournament, won by Venezuela, despite playing part of it with a reduced squad. It was the largest desertion by a traveling Cuban team in history, beating the five defections in 1996 by members of the Industriales club while also playing in a tournament in Mexico. This tournament “will be remembered as the ‘deserters’ World Cup,” said Cuban baseball journalist Francys Romero on Twitter. Cuban baseball has long been affected by desertions as the riches on offer abroad — particularly in Major League Baseball — entice many young stars who can only earn glory by staying at home. Cuba rarely allows any of its sports stars to play for foreign teams, particularly those in the United States, which has imposed a full embargo on the island nation since 1962. The MLB is the richest baseball league in the world and Cubans wanting to play in it need to defect. Former stars such as Orlando Hernandez, Jose Contreras and Kendrys Morales, as well as current players Jose Abreu, Aroldis Chapman and Yulieski Gurriel all defected to play in the MLB. The island nation has also lost many of its top boxers to defections, including Olympic gold medalists Guillermo Rigondeaux, Joel Casamayor and Yuriorkis Gamboa.