The Trump administration will not allow Major League Baseball to sign Cuban players, in a move canceling a December 2018 agreement between MLB and the Cuban Baseball Federation that would have allowed Cuban players to join MLB. The agreement, according to the Trump administration, violates current U.S. law that bans business dealings with the Cuban government.
December’s deal was created to protect players from being targets of human traffickers because they had to defect and establish U.S. residency for a chance to play ball. China, South Korea and Japan send players to the US under similar agreements.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control reversed the rule allowing Major League Baseball to pay the Cuban Baseball Federation a release fee equal to 25 percent of each Cuban player’s signing bonus.
The Deal met Immediate Resistance From the Trump Administration
The decision blocks Cubans—the likes of who Yasiel Puig, José Abreu, and Aroldis Chapman have transformed the sport—from joining teams in the U.S. and Canada.
The original agreement was helped by an Obama-era regulatory change that allowed US employers to hire Cuban nationals despite the 60-year-old US trade embargo against Cuba, reports CNN.
“For years, Major League Baseball has been seeking to end the trafficking of baseball players from Cuba by criminal organizations by creating a safe and legal alternative,” MLB commish Rob Manfred said at the time.
The original deal “was designed to end the often dangerous pattern of ambitious Cuban stars seeking to join the major leagues by defecting and arranging to smuggle themselves out of Cuba with the aid of human traffickers. Under the agreement, Cuban players may return to the island during the off-season, unlike those who defect,” reports NPR.
During the Obama administration, relations with Cuba had eased as part of The Cuban thaw which began in late 2014. By 2016, Obama became the first U.S. President to visit Cuba since 1928.
Players are Forced to Defect and Seek Residency in the US
The Trump Administration likened the deal to cutting a check to Cuba’s government and by proxy its continued support of the Maduro regime in Venezuela while Sen. Marco Rubio said it was a form or ransom to fund the “legalized trafficking of persons” to do business with the Cuban Baseball Federation, but Cuban players who defected tell of “harrowing” stories of human trafficking.
As reported by The New York Times, Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox said in a statement released by MLB and the players’ union that the now-defunct agreement meant “Dealing with the exploitation of smugglers and unscrupulous agencies will finally come to an end for the Cuban baseball player,” adding “To this date, I am still harassed.”
“We look forward to the day that Cuban baseball players can fully contract with Major League Baseball like players from every other country in the world and not as pawns of the Cuban dictatorship,” a senior administration official told reporters on condition of anonymity.