Trump Administration Reverses Major League Baseball's Deal With Cuba

The Trump administration has blocked a partnership between Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Cuban Baseball Federation, which would have recruited 34 players from the island nation to join US and Canadian teams. The four-month-old agreement, which was negotiated under the Obama administration, was intended to help major league clubs sign Cuban players at a release fee — or 25 percent of the player’s signing bonus — for the Federation. The player would have to pay Cuban income taxes on earnings overseas, NPR reported.

The deal was created to stem Cuban players from defecting and leaving the country with the help of human traffickers, and instead, help students return to Cuba during the major league's offseason. An anonymous senior administration official told reporters, however, that the arrangement was “a form of ‘human trafficking’ by the Cuban government” because the Federation is a subsidiary of the government in Havana.

"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," the official told reporters. MLB stood by the plan, however. "We stand by the goal of the agreement, which is to end the human trafficking of baseball players from Cuba," said league Vice President Michael Teevan, in an emailed statement to NPR.

Meanwhile, the Cuban Baseball Federation rejected the Trump administration’s decision in a message on Twitter. "The agreement with #MLB seeks to stop the trafficking of human beings, encourage cooperation, and raise the level of baseball. Any contrary idea is false news. Politically motivated attacks against the agreement achieved harm to the athletes, their families and the fans." MLB teams such as the Arizona Diamondbacks lamented the move.

“Cuban baseball players have had a strong impact on Major League Baseball,” Diamondbacks Manager Torey Lovullo told reporters prior to a Tuesday game. “And, I mean, I want that to continue. I want the best players to play here. I want the best players to come to this country and continue to make this game great.” Cesar Geronimo Jr., director of Latin America scouting for the Diamondbacks, told AZ Central that some Cuban players expressed disappointment following the decision.

“For the Cubans it’s very hard for them to get out of Cuba and sign as an amateur,” Geronimo said. “The hardship. ... It makes (scouting) a little more difficult. It is difficult just seeing the talent. A lot of Cuban players are coming through Latin America right now; I don’t know if they’re the top guys but they’re there. They have ways of getting out of Cuba, but it’s always difficult.”


About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review, Mic.com, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and US politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.