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Trump closes Cuban players path to U.S.

by Paul Cifonelli - Staff Writer
Tue, Apr 16th 2019 10:00 pm

Trump Administration Vetoes MLB-Cuba Agreement

Even though the United States and Cuba countries have significantly improved relations since the Cold War years, there has been a blip on the radar for the two countries. On Monday, April 8, the Trump administration rejected a deal that would allow Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation to help Cuban baseball players reach the United States, according to USA Today.

Had the deal, which was signed in December of 2018, gone through, Cuban players would be able to be scouted and signed by Major League organizations without having to defect. Cuban baseball players typically have to leave the island on small, makeshift rafts. The players are usually brought to multiple different countries via paid smugglers before they can even enter the United States.

Along with the struggle of leaving their family and being in unfamiliar places, the defectors must also forfeit their Cuban citizenship. This makes them ineligible to represent their country in the Olympic Games and the World Baseball Classic. According to nj.com, some players, such as Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman, have become U.S. citizens after defecting, which therefore makes them eligible to participate for the U.S. during international competitions.

According to the agreement, the players would be treated just like the players in the Japanese professional league that make the transition to the U.S. They would receive 100 percent of their signing bonuses and the MLB team that signs them would pay a posting fee to the Cuban Baseball Federation.

Jesse Yomtov and John Fritze of USA Today reported that the Trump administration found the agreement to be illegal because the administration sees the Cuban Baseball Federation as a part of the Cuban government, which would make the agreement illegal. The Obama administration, which was around when talks began, saw the league as separate from the government.

While cancelling the deal may seem unwarranted at first glance, improving relations with Cuba has been put on hold since President Trump took office. Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post reported that, since President Trump took office, the United States has taken reduced the size of its embassy in Havana, required Cuban citizens travel to a third country to obtain work visas and restricted previously allowed travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba.

Despite the fact that the ruling by the Trump administration is legally the correct one, it has brought about a lot of backlash. Benjamin Rhodes, an advisor of Obama who began to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015, feels that the ruling is unjust and not fair to the players.

“The MLB came to us,” Rhodes said to DeYoung. “They felt profound concern about the danger in terms of human trafficking that Cuban baseball players were subjected to try to play in the major leagues. This is an indefensible, cruel and pointless decision that they’ve made that will be ending the lives of Cuban baseball players and achieve nothing beyond appeasing hard-line factions in Florida.”

Rhodes’ criticism is echoed by many people around the country, but not everyone feels this way. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio feels that the agreement would be the equivalent of paying ransom for the player to come to the United States. Garrett Marquis, a National Security Council spokesman, also feels as though the agreement simply breaks the law that is in place.

“The U.S. 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,” Marquis told Yomtov and Fritze.

Baseball has been seen as a key contributor to improving relations between Cuba and the United States. On March 22, 2016, the Tampa Bay Rays went to Cuba to take on the Cuban national team with, at the time, President Obama and President Raul Castro exchanging pleasantries and watching the game.

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