A deal between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation has been nixed by President Trump's administration, reversing a decision from President Barack Obama's tenure that facilitated a pipeline of Cuban talent into the U.S.
The deal helped Cuban-born players sign deals with the MLB and play in the U.S. without having to defect from the communist country. Supporters of the agreement said it helped prevent human trafficking as players wishing to play in the U.S. sometimes relied on smugglers to get out of Cuba. The MLB said as much when the deal was struck in December, citing the extreme measures Cuban players had to go through to make it to the U.S.
Under Obama, the Treasury Department concluded the Cuban Baseball Federation was not a formal entity under the Cuban government, providing cover from federal law prohibiting payments to the Cuban government.
But according to ESPN, the Treasury Department sent a letter to MLB on Friday declaring that any payment made to the Cuban Baseball Federation would be considered a payment to the Cuban government and therefore was a violation of federal trade laws.
The National Security Council said it wouldn't allow Cuba to exploit citizens working in the United States, leaving the door open for the possibility of a different deal between MLB and Cuba in the future.
"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," NSC spokesperson Garrett Marquis said. "The administration looks forward to working with MLB to identify ways for Cuban players to have the individual freedom to benefit from their talents, and not as property of the Cuban State."
Opponents of the deal argued Cuba was taking advantage of the players and using them as economic and political pawns. One of those critics, national security adviser John Bolton, cited Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, whom the U.S. has declared the unlawful ruler of his country amid a political and economic crisis.
"Cuba wants to use baseball players as economic pawns – selling their rights to Major League Baseball," Bolton tweeted Sunday. "America’s national pastime should not enable the Cuban regime‘s support for Maduro in Venezuela."
The MLB Player's Association, the union that collectively bargains for MLB players, declined to comment, and the MLB simply said it stood behind the original goal of the agreement, which was to end the trafficking of players, making it safer to get to the U.S. to play baseball.
Engage Cuba, a coalition dedicated to advancing legislation to restore friendly relations with Cuba, denounced Trump's decision to tank the deal.
“The MLB deal with Cuba solved a horrible human trafficking problem," Engage Cuba president Jason Williams said. "By breaking that deal, the White House now owns this and exposes Cuban players to human rights abuses. It is a cynical, cruel and gratuitous act that is aimed at appeasing a vocal band of obstructionists bent on continuing a failed 60 year policy of isolation. The Cuban players and their families had reason for hope from this deal; that has now been extinguished."
MLB officials asked for a meeting with Trump's administration, but no meeting as been granted yet, according to ESPN.