By Eric Reynoso (Cafe Fuerte)
HAVANA TIMES — The Obama administration has taken an important step to facilitate access to the Major Leagues by Cuban baseball players, who will now only require a general employment license to enter into a contract with professional baseball teams in the United States.
According to the new regulations issued by the US Treasury Department, Cuban players no longer require a special, job-specific license to sign contracts with Major League baseball franchises. This will significantly simplify the employment process, both for the players and their representatives.
“The new resolution regards any Cuban baseball player who has acquired permanent residency in a third country as “unblocked”, provided they meet the general license requirements,” US Treasury spokesman Hagar Hajjar Chemali told Café Fuerte. “These general licenses do not apply to Cuban players residing in Cuba.”
The new regulations issued by the Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on January 27 clearly establish that any Cuban who requests permanent residency in the United States or secures such residency in a third country will be automatically “unblocked” and enjoy the benefit of a general license to enter into contracts in the United States, provided they can present pertinent proof of this. The decision also favors the entity that represents the interested party.
Only those Cubans linked to high Cuban government spheres and the Communist Party are not included, the document adds.
The documents required for a player residing in a third country to become “unblocked” include the residency or citizenship document, a passport or any official identification document and a bank statement for an account held in the country of residence. Those individuals who cannot produce the required documents must submit sufficient proof that they have resided outside of Cuba for two uninterrupted years or a sworn statement to the effects that they have no intention of returning to Cuba to reside there permanently.
“An unblocked individual will not be blocked again simply for ceasing to live in the United States or the country where they previously obtained residency. They will remain unblocked unless they return to Cuba to reside there,” the regulation specifies.
Open Doors for Cubans
The decision opens many doors for dozens of Cuban baseball players who were awaiting a specific license and expected processing times between four and six months, something which will bring about a change in the policies established by the Major League Baseball (MLB) Office.
Some 70 players (who left Cuba over the past two years) are going through the steps required to sign contracts with Major League franchises at different levels.
The young player from Cuba’s province of Cienfuegos, Yoan Moncada, fought over by such franchises as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, could be one of the first to benefit from the new regulations. The 19-year-old Moncada resides in Guatemala and has been waiting for an OFAC permit to be able to sign a contract since September of last year.
The MLB, however, does not want to make any hasty decisions. OFAC’s decision, in fact, hands over the process of verifying the legal status and documents presented by the individuals hired to MLB.
Following the publication of the new OFAC norms, the MLB published a communiqué at the request of the press.
Playing it Safe
“MLB has important questions regarding how the new regulations apply to the unique circumstances of Cuban Players based on our significant experience in this area, and our discussions with OFAC in prior years,” the communiqué explains.
“MLB is committed to following the laws of the United States, and will not change its policy requiring that Cuban Players receive a specific OFAC unblocking license until it confirms with all relevant branches of our government, including OFAC, that any new approach is consistent with the law. We hope to receive clarity on this issue as quickly as possible.”
Any violation of Treasury Department controls regarding Cuba or the acceptance of false documents is an offense punishable with corporate fines of US $1 million, US $250 thousand in individual fines and up to 10 years in prison.
MLB requested a meeting with OFAC officials to clarify how the new regulations apply to Cuban players jointly.
In addition, on January 31, the office of the new MLB Commissioner Roberto Manfred, sent a memorandum to the 30 professional franchises in the United States, advising them that the situation vis-a-vis Cuban players remains the same for the time being.
The recommendation is direct: “(…) do not enter into agreements with Cuban players until you receive further notice from the Commissioner’s Office.”
Parallel to this, the MLB sent Cuban players waiting for an OFAC permit a communiqué to let them know they no longer require a specific license and may now consider themselves unblocked.