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Trump Put A Stop To The MLB And Cuban Baseball Federation Deal And Here’s Why It Matters

The Trump administration on Monday canceled a deal that would have made it easier for Cuban baseball players to compete professionally in the U.S. The nixed deal is a reversal of a policy from former President Obama’s administration created to soften relations between the U.S. and Cuba. The Trump administration saw different as they argued that the sport’s governing body is part of the Cuban government and the deal would have violated U.S. trade law. The deal, which would have run through October 2021, allowed Cuban players to sign with teams under similar rules as other international players from Japan and South Korea.

Players who were over 25 years old would be free to sign with organizations that paid a “release fee” to a Cuban baseball club.

The U.S. economic embargo on Cuba currently denies Americans from doing business with Cuba’s government. The Obama administration’s ruling had cleared a pathway for an agreement between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation reached late last year.

The deal was designed to allow Cuban baseball players to join U.S. baseball teams without having to defect, which was standard in previous years.
The Obama administration hoped that the policy would create a system where Cuban players would no longer have to defect from the Cuban government, which commonly involved dangerous journeys at the hands of human smugglers.

“Establishing a safe, legal process for entry to our system is the most important step we can take to ending the exploitation and endangerment of Cuban players who pursue careers in Major League Baseball,” Tony Clark, executive director for the MLB players’ union in a statement back in December.

Just last week the Cuban federation released its first group of players able to sign contracts with MLB organizations, and some were expected to be playing in the U.S. this year.

Cuba has produced some of MLB’s biggest stars. Many of them defected on their own and faced deadly circumstances to make it here.

Among the most notable recent players that have defected from Cuba are
Jose Abreu, Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes. All have had well documented stories of their defections from Cuba and the perilous journeys they took to get to the U.S.

MLB sent a letter to the Treasury and State Departments, outlining the purpose of its agreement and the stories of players that have defected. MLB even requested a meeting with government officials, though no meeting was ever granted.

The cancelled deal has gotten criticism from the Cuban Baseball Federation and advocates who say Cuban players will be further placed in danger.

Many in the baseball community see the canceled deal as a major blow to incoming talent and puts more players at risk. MLB said on Monday that their primary goal is to “end the human trafficking of baseball players from Cuba.”

The Cuban Baseball Federation spoke out on Twitter about the disappointment of the reversed policy. They said the “politically motivated attacks on the deal hurt players, their families, and fans.”

The canceled policy is also a political win Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who fought the deal between MLB and the Cuban Baseball Federation. Rubio challenged the policy saying it was in the benefit of the Cuban government rather then in the interest of the baseball players.

“The reason Cuban baseball players have to escape & seek asylum to play in America is not U.S. law or policy The reason is the Cuban govt won’t let them leave to play here,” Rubio said on Twitter.

What’s next for Cuban baseball players that want to play for MLB?

Without a policy in place, Cuban players may have to return to defection which could continue the dangerous trend of smuggling. Overall, this is a huge blow to Cuban players and an even bigger one to the game of baseball.

One of the players who defected from Cuba is New York Yankees pitcher Aroldis Chapman. Chapman, who spoke with media on Monday, said the news is a blow to the many young aspiring Cuban players who want to come to MLB.

“It is definitely a sensitive topic, so many things behind it. Anytime you are talking about baseball and politics, it’s a very sensitive subject. But, I just feel bad for those young ball players, who are probably not going to have the same chance to play here,” Chapman said through Yankees’ interpreter Marlin Abreu. “It’s definitely difficult for a lot of Cuban players playing at this level here in the States. The way we got here was, it was tough, to say the least.

One thing is for sure, the cancelled policy would have created more opportunities for younger players and allowed them to avoid the dangerous and costly process of defecting. This now leaves many players in Cuba searching for answers on how to move forward with their major league aspirations.

READ: 21 Latino Baseball Players That Are Poised To Make An Impact This Season

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