Engage Cuba Statement on Sabotage of MLB Cuba Deal

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Trump administration signaled that it plans to overturn an Obama administration ruling that made it possible for U.S. major league teams to sign Cuban baseball players living in Cuba. The ruling had determined that the Cuban Baseball Federation did not qualify as an arm of the Cuban government.

“The MLB deal with Cuba solved a horrible human trafficking problem. 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. They deserve better. The Cuban players and their families deserve a real solution from the administration, not more tired partisan politics,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba. “President Trump claims to be the dealmaker-in-chief. Undoing this deal is not a win for America. It’s not a win for the Cuban people. It’s only a win for fringe special interest hardliners in Florida and for human traffickers and extortionists.” 
 
In December, Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) struck a deal to allow U.S. major league teams to directly sign Cuban baseball players on the island. Previously, under MLB rules and U.S. and Cuban government restrictions, major league teams could only recruit Cuban players who had defected and established residency outside Cuba. 

The agreement would allow FCB players older than 25 or with at least six years of experience in Cuban leagues to be signed out of Cuba and apply for a U.S. work visa while maintaining their Cuban residency, modeling existing MLB agreements with Japan, China, and South Korea. In the absence of a formal path to the U.S. major leagues, many Cuban baseball players have fallen victim to human trafficking and extortion on their journey to the United States or third countries, such as the harrowing experience of the Cincinnati Reds’ Yasiel Puig. 

Last week, the FCB released 34 players to sign contracts directly with MLB. However, due to U.S. economic sanctions on Cuba, the legality of MLB’s deal with the FCB hinges on the Obama administration’s designation of the FCB as not part of the Cuban government -- a designation which the Trump administration plans to overturn. If the FCB is designated as part of Cuba’s government, agreements for Cuban players to join U.S. teams would require specific licenses from the Department of Treasury.  

[Photo: Nick Wass/AP]