HAVANA TIMES — The US $102,000 that should have gone to Cuba’s Pinar del Rio team, champions of the Caribbean Series 2015, will not be collected by the players. And no bonuses will go to the four Cubans on the tournament’s All-Star team, prizes that they won fairly at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The big political excuse used so far by the US institutions to avoid paying Cuban teams was that the money would end up in the hands of the government, not in the hands of the players.
However, since January 2014, when the new policy on remuneration approved by the Cuban Sports Institute (INDER) took effect, the island’s authorities established that the total amount of the revenues obtained in competition would go to the athletes (80 percent), the coaches (15 percent) and work teams (5 percent.)
Under that concept, and being unable to access the prize, each of the 25 Cuban players who raised the trophy in the 57th Caribbean Series failed to receive US $3,264, the equivalent of 6 years 7 months of the basic salary of a player in the Cuban baseball league.
To the Cubans and those knowledgeable of the “economic blockade,” the news is no news at all. US laws are very clear on that point and, even though the tournament is not played in its backyard, it is Major League Baseball that puts up the money, and the MLB has never disobeyed its government.
The recent news published by AFP news adds another issue to the debate: the blockade’s economic influence on the development of Cuban baseball and its profitability for the athletes and the institution. It is an influence that, after the new announcements made by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), seems not to have changed at all.
According to US laws, no Cuban institution or person living in Cuba may receive payment in dollars for their services, or in the form of prizes, and that also applies to baseball. That is why, for more than two decades, some of the best Cuban ball players have had to leave their native land for good in order to follow their dreams in the Major Leagues.
After the announcements by Raul Castro and Barack Obama on Dec. 17, 2014, many people turned their eyes to baseball. One year earlier, Cuba had approved the contracting out of its athletes abroad, leaving the U.S. authorities with the old dilemma of Cubans’ normal participation in the Major Leagues. The ball was in their court.
More than a month later, the facilities offered by OFAC for the signing of Cuban players in MLB — marginalizing the Cuban institutions — don’t seem to be a step forward in the solution of a situation that evidently transcends the sports scene.
The issue of the Caribbean series
After a 53-year absence from the regional classics, Cuba attended the Caribbean Series 2014 organized in Isla Margarita, Venezuela, as a guest, not as a full member of the Caribbean Federation of Professional Baseball (CBPC).
According to Antonio Días Susavilla, spokesman for the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB), the team knew in advance that it was renouncing its rights to collect the prizes offered, which at the time amounted to $100,000. This might explain the silence of the Cuban authorities.
This situation was repeated two weeks ago with the tournament in Puerto Rico, where — despite repeated attempts to join the FCB as a full member — Pinar del Rio had to play under the same conditions as Villa Clara the previous year. In the best of cases, they might return with a trophy.
Although the leadership of the CBPC, headed by Juan Francisco Puello Herrera, has expressed its willingness to expedite the admission of Cuba into the group, the reality is that, because these winter leagues are sponsored by the MLB, any deal involving Cuba is studied closely by the US authorities.
In addition, as confirmed by sources in the FCB, Cuba’s presence as a member with full rights would permit the exchange of players and would facilitate the insertion of Cubans into the main leagues in the area, something that, after what happened with outfielder Alfredo Despaigne and Mexico’s Campeche Pirates, does not seem to be in the plans being made by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.
For now, the AFP report, while it doesn’t discover anything new and beyond its exaggerated description of baseball as “the island’s leading industry” (let’s remember that health-care providers on foreign missions bring in $7 billion a year), is right in putting on the table an old debate: Could Cuban baseball be profitable for the athletes and the Baseball Federation if and when it’s allowed to?