By Franco Ordonez

Barack and Michele Obama with Raul Castro at Havana’s Latinoamericano stadium in the Cuban capital in March, 2016 for an exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team.

HAVANA TIMES – The Trump administration is expected to take steps to block a historic agreement that would allow Cuban baseball players from joining Major League Baseball in the United States without having to defect, according to an official familiar with the discussions, reported McClatchy and dpa news.

The administration wants to reverse an Obama-era ruling that says the Cuban government doesn’t run the island’s professional baseball league. Such a position gave MLB space to negotiate and reach the deal with Cuban baseball and circumvent the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, who vowed to fight the deal between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball federation, has been pressing the State Department to review the 2016 ruling and asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo personally to rule that the Cuban government controls the island baseball league and therefore nullify the deal.

“The deal between MLB and the Cuban Baseball Federation is both illegal and immoral,” Rubio told McClatchy. “This terrible one-sided agreement will only enrich the regime and further exploit the Cuban people.”

The crux of the agreement rests on the Obama administration ruling that the Cuban Baseball Federation is an independent entity from the government. In 2016, MLB obtained a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Treasury Department to reach an agreement with the Cuban Baseball Federation.

It is up to Treasury to revoke the license, but it first needs guidance from the State Department. State is currently reviewing the foreign policy guidance from 2016. Once that process is complete, State will provide guidance to Treasury and then OFAC can provide a response to MLB. Without guidance from State, Treasury can’t revoke or grant a license.

The administration did not respond to specific questions about plans to scuttle the deal, but officials have been clear they feel the agreement would “institutionalize a system by which a Cuban body garnishes the wages of hard-working athletes who simply seek to live and compete in a free society.”

“Parties seeking to benefit from business opportunities in Cuba are on notice that the administration will continue to take actions to support human rights and restrict the Cuban regime’s ability to profit from U.S. business,” a senior administration official said.

MLB officials said they had been in regular contact with the Trump administration during the months of negotiations, including in the last several days with top officials at the White House and State Department who were supportive of the arrangement.

Photo: baseballdecuba.com

“Until the 11th hour, the messaging to MLB was that the administration would not have an issue with the agreement,” said Dan Halem, MLB’s deputy commissioner and chief legal officer.

The agreement is intended to give Cuban baseball players a chance to play baseball in the United States without having to make the perilous ocean journey or sign up with dangerous smuggling operations.

The extent of the danger was highlighted in a recent criminal case against a sports agent and a baseball trainer convicted of operating a sophisticated network that smuggled Cuban players off the island and took them to Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti where they established residency or obtained fake papers to then apply for U.S. visas and work licenses.

Many current and former Cuban baseball players who took such dramatic steps to play Major League Baseball praised the agreement.

“To this date, I am still harassed,” said White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu. “The next generation of Cuban baseball players will be able to sign an MLB contract while in Cuba, they will be able to keep their earnings as any other player in the world, they will be able to return to Cuba, they will be able to share with their families, and they will be able to play the sport they love against the best players in the world without fear and trepidation.”

Major League Baseball officials said they were surprised some politicians oppose an agreement that is designed to end human smuggling and that the alternative is allowing the current system in which players are trafficked to continue.

“We’ve been trying to end this practice and provide a safe and legal path for Cuban players to come to the United States for years,” Halem said.

The deal would allow Cuban baseball players who are 25 or older to play in the United States and then return to Cuba without penalty.

The players, who must also have six years of professional experience in Cuba, would be eligible to play as free agents.

In exchange, the U.S. team would pay a one-time release fee between
15 and 20 percent of the total contract to the Cuban federation.

But since the announcement was made, Rubio has questioned its legality, called it a “farce” and expressed confidence the administration will take steps to prevent it.

“I am confident that Secretary Pompeo will overturn it as soon as possible,” Rubio said.


8 thoughts on “Rubio Wants Trump to Veto MLB Deal with Cuba

  • You need to do research bro, Japanese players need to be 8 years minimum playing in Japan League to be able to play at MLB, plus MLB pay for realease players, plus the players need to paid more tax if they deposit their salary in Japan’s banks.Nir MLB paid one time a sum equivalent to 15% to 20% of the contract. The Cuban player will receive full paid of his salary, no need to paid to the government, Cuba will not charge nothing to the players, is their money, they can travel without problem to Cuba to meet their family…
    All professional sports pay to get players, some sports paid astronomic sum to get a player, like Football, but in case of baseball….I believe is the best for those guy who love to play in the MLB and show their potential..

  • Matt,
    I don’t think you totally understand the article or the agreement that Rubio is opposing.
    Suggestions that this money would be going to ‘the castros’ are way off the mark.
    I have been to a great many Cuban baseball games and they can be a wonderful spectacle with amazing atmosphere. It’s Cuba’s national sport. It produces some great ball players but is woefully underfunded. This agreement would go some way to combatting people traffickers and also bring much needed funds into Cuba’s national game. Top Cuban baseball players would have a similar deal to top Japanese baseball players in terms of playing in the best baseball leagues in the world in the USA (Japan, like Cuba, is a major player in international baseball).
    The deal is a compromise that protects the standard of Cuba’s baseball league and boosts the possibilities of Cuba’s national team.
    The likes of the right wing Senator Rubio oppose all compromises.
    I would suggest that compromises between opposing viewpoints are generally a positive thing.

  • Stop the blame and don’t be a fool, trying to justify why the castros should get a cut of a suppose free individual God given talent.

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