Politics Sports

Trump blocks safe road to U.S. for Cuban baseball players

By Bill Sarno/CTLatinoNews.com

The Trump administration has canceled an agreement that would have allowed Cuban baseball players a chance to play in the U.S. without having to resort to defection and the risks that accompany this difficult process which has included kidnapping and multi-country odysseys.

The White House justified aborting the nascent arrangement because it called for the players remitting part of any signing bonus to the Cuban baseball federation, and purportedly to the Havana regime which would use the money to support embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. 

More broadly, this red light, which came shortly before the initial roundup of signings were to start,  also falls in line with President Trump’s ongoing appeasement of obstructionists who oppose Obama Administration’s normalizing relationships with Cuba. 

U.S. Rep. John B. Larson (CT-01), viewed the White House’s move to block the MLB from signing Cuban players as “a policy reversal [that] is a step back in the wrong direction.”

The Democratic congressman also stated: “I visited Cuba in 2015 and saw firsthand what it was like. At the time, I commended President Obama for moving forward in normalizing relations with Cuba.”

Then there is the president’s apparent fixation on erasing his predecessor achievements whether it be the Affordable Care Act, international trade and environment accords or hard line with the North Korean regime.

“Trump is intent on destroying anything [President] Obama did,” said Magdalena Bessy Reyna a Cuban born poet and CtLatinoNews.com columnist.

Reyna also said U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s “dirty little fingers are all over this decision because it would bring money to Cuba.

Rubio, a Florida Republican of Cuban descent had tweeted the “Legality of the recent agreement between MLB & Cuban Baseball Federation rests on (President) Obama era ruling that [the] federation [is] not controlled by Cuban govt. This is not just factually incorrect.” 

Although Major League Baseball’s agreement with Cuba was recently closed, the negotiations with Cuba were based on a special license from the Obama Administration.

Under the agreement, worked out last year, ballplayers who met certain age and experience criteria could be signed by Major League Baseball teams with a portion of their signing bonus going to the Cuban Federation, much the same as how U.S. teams pay Asian teams, primarily in Japan and Korea, when signing their elite players to come to play in America.

Cuba’s baseball organization recently said 34 players would be eligible this year to sign contracts directly with U.S. teams. Had this agreement been in place last year, it would have meant about $2.5 million paid to Cuban baseball in release fees, according to Bloomberg News.

White House’s rationale for rejecting this setup was presented by spokesman Garrett Marquis. In a statement, he said, “The United States does not support actions that would institutionalize a system by which a Cuban government entity garnishes the wages of hard-working athletes who simply seek to live and compete in a free society.” 

Major League Baseball envisioned the now-canceled deal as a more humane approach. Commissioner Rob Manfred, in a news release announcing the deal, said, “We believe that this agreement … will allow the next generation of Cuban players to pursue their dream without enduring many of the hardships experienced by current and former Cuban players who have played Major League Baseball.”

While baseball is known as the American pastime, the game also is an important part of Cuban culture, with the national team’s Olympic and other international champions sharing honors with the success of those Cuban players who have made it to the big leagues.

Reyna retains some vivid memories of how the role of the game on her life ranging from her childhood to the 1989 earthquake disrupting the World Series in San Francisco.

“I’ve so many stories about baseball from the age of five when I stole my mom’s piggy bank to buy a flag of my favorite team in Cuba, to high school when I said I had to call my Dad to get out of class to find out how the World Series was going, to my grampa begging the revolutionary Cuban government to let him get in the plane with players going to the Caribbean games in Panama so he could visit us to my dad visiting in CT yelling, ‘No baseball!’ because of the earthquake in California during the game.” 

Currently, more than a dozen Cuban defectors have earned places on Major League rosters. These include all-stars Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel “The Wild Horse” Puig and Aroldis “The Cuban Missile” Chapman. Cespedes is earning more than $20 million with the New York Mets.  

Puig risked 13 defection attempts. Chapman became an Andorran resident to gain entry to the U.S. and Abreu reportedly tore up his fake passport and ate it on his flight to the U.S. Another Cuban player was kidnapped in Mexico. 

Critics of the cancellation of the baseball agreement warn that these horror stories are likely to be replicated by other elite Cuban players.

“Like every major policy decision Trump has made, it is a disaster,” said state Rep. Christopher Rosario.  

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