Cuban Gov. Ends Certain Obstacles for Emigrated Athletes

to participate in Cuban sports leagues

By Mayli Estevez  (El Toque) 

HAVANA TIMES – Finally, the noose around Cuban baseball’s neck has forced sports authorities on the island to eliminate a painful requirement that forced baseball players interested in playing in Cuba to undergo a bureaucratic repatriation process to prove the obvious: that they were Cuban.

On June 29, 2023, the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER) confirmed that the repatriation requirement for “some” athletes (those who hadn’t defected from a sports delegation and are now based abroad) can play in national tournaments. 

“Having taken the necessary steps, we can announce that repatriation is no longer a requirement for Cubans living abroad to play in national events organized by INDER,” the sports body belonging to the Cuban Government said on their Twitter account. 

Yasmany Tomas was looking to join Havana’s Industriales team in the 62nd Cuban National Series, so he could be seen by Japanese league baseball agents, among other reasons. After weeks under pressure because of the former Major League player’s situation, sports authorities finally took the step many had been longing for. It’s one less piece of redtape for anemic Cuban baseball, and they’re desperate for results. 

According to INDER, the greatest controversy was sparked in baseball circles because of the huge number of high-quality players living abroad who want to end their careers in Cuba, or at least play for a brief period of time in front of their former fans. 

“The measure forms part of a series of efforts to make the most of all the talent trained up by revolutionary sports, to give national tournaments some razzle-dazzle, as well as national teams with those four glorious letters,” they added. 

The decision was expected over a month ago, as Tomas, who pressured the authorities, had been training in Havana since early June 2023 and had made it clear that his inclusion on Havana’s Industriales team would have to overlook the “repatriation” requirement imposed by the National Commission. Like many others, Tomas wants to play baseball in the capital without having to prove he’s Cuban with a formality. 

On this issue, sports journalist for the Tribuna de La Habana, Boris Luis Cabrera, pointed out that “after board members’ announcement that repatriation was no longer a requirement for Cubans living abroad,” Tomas’ inclusion in the Havana team should put that team on the right track to offensively for the upcoming play-offs that begin on July 8th. 

In addition to Tomas’ case, other former Major League players, such as Alexei Ramirez originally from Pinar del Rio, want to finish their careers in their birth countries, according to sports magazine Pelota Cubana. 

With INDER’s new decision, not only will players be able to play in the Cuban National Series without having to undergo repatriation, but they will also be able to join the national team at international events (such as the upcoming Pan American Games in Santiago de Chile if Cuba qualifies). This not only opens up doors to local events, but will also allow them to wear the Cuban shirt at any tournament abroad and not only in baseball, in any sport. 

The regulations for the 62nd Cuban National Series, the current baseball season on the island, stipulates that Cuban players based abroad will be able to join “once their migration processes are completed and by the request which needs to be approved by the National Commission.” There even used to be “punishment” for provincial teams that violated the regulation, which needs to change immediately. 

“This requirement should be lifted for EVERYTHING, because anyone who was born in Cuba continues to be CUBAN for the rest of their lives,” and “It’s time to change discourses and mindsets that don’t work, in the best interests of new generations, in the best interests of Cuba,” were some of the comments made by fans on the issue. 

The repatriation controversy also served for pro-government press to pick a “team” and ask for a measure to be repealed that Joel Garcia, from the newspaper Trabajadores, labeled “strict and one more bureaucratic procedure.” 

Journalists from the state-controlled press called out in unison for this measure to be eliminated once and for all and, finally, decision-makers “with the noose around their necks”, decided to save themselves. It’s still too early to know if they’ve also saved the devalued Cuban baseball.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.