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  • The Trump administration is threatening to veto Obama's Cuban baseball deal.

    The Trump administration is threatening to veto Obama's Cuban baseball deal. | Photo: Reuters

Published 29 December 2018

Washington is reversing an agreement that would allow Cubans to join U.S. Major League Baseball without first having to defect.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio is attempting to veto an Obama-era ruling allowing Cuban athletes to join Major League Baseball without first having to defect to the United States.

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Cuban, US Leagues Ink Deal to Protect Cuban Baseball Players

Rubio has asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to rule that the Cuban government controls the island baseball league, therefore nullifying the deal.

“The deal between MLB and the Cuban Baseball Federation is both illegal and immoral,” Rubio told McClatchy. “This terrible one-sided agreement will only enrich the regime and further exploit the Cuban people.”

However, as the Washington Post reported, the Trump administration has "a problem with a business relationship in which the Cuban government profits from a U.S. company."

MLB deputy commissioner and chief legal officer Dan Halem expressed his surprise at Rubio's comments, claiming that “until the 11th hour, the messaging to MLB was that the administration would not have an issue with the agreement."

Speaking to the Miami Herald, Halem continued by saying the initial agreement was made in the interests of players' safety, “We’ve been trying to end this practice and provide a safe and legal path for Cuban players to come to the United States for years.”  

 
 

Halem and other Major League Baseball officials were shocked at the opposition to the agreement, which is intended to reduce human trafficking. Rubio's plan, meanwhile, could actually exacerbate the issue.

Under the existing Obama-era agreement, which was ratified only last week, Cuban players 25 and older can play in the United States and return to Cuba without penalty. The players, who must also have six years professional experience in Cuba, would be eligible to play as free agents.

In exchange, the U.S. team would pay a one-time release fee between, set to be between 15 and 20 percent of the total contract to the Cuban federation.

Negotiations originally began in 2014 when former presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro agreed to work to restore diplomatic ties. However, the economic embargo that the U.S. government still has on Cuba prevented the agreement from being cemented.

According to Elliott Abrams of the National Review, Cuban athletes have historically risked great danger in the hope of living the American Dream.

In 2009, Yasiel Puig - then getting paid $17 a month playing in Cuba's lower leagues - tried 13 times to escape to the United States via Mexico. 

He was variously stopped by police; one boat was intercepted by a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant near Haiti, and during his fifth attempt, he was taken to Mexico by Los Zetas, a Mexican drug cartel.

It remains to be seen whether the Obama-era agreement will be allowed to stand. 

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