Cuba

Trump Is Forcing Cuban Ballplayers To Suffer for the Sins of Their Government

Administration appears to value hardline Cuba stance over ballplayer safety.

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Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports/Newscom

News broke Monday that the Trump administration was nixing a deal between Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Cuban Baseball Federation (CBF) that allowed major league clubs to sign Cuban players. The administration believes the agreement violates the decades-old economic embargo on Cuba, which may be true. But nullifying the deal will have major consequences, as Cuban players who want to compete in the U.S. may once again have to deal with harrowing journeys if they want to escape their own country.

First, some background. For years, Cuban players considered good enough to make it in the U.S. would have to defect, as their government (which runs the CBF) did not want them leaving the country. This often meant they would have to turn to human smugglers.

Cuban players "are often forced to contract with criminal smuggling gangs and pay a fair amount of money from their signing bonuses to smugglers," MLB Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem said in December. "Some are also harassed by smugglers after they sign."

Consider Reds outfielder Yasiel Puig, who in 2012 put his life into the hands of traffickers, fleeing to Mexico, and eventually the U.S.

Or take Yankees White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, who said in December he was still being "harassed" by "smugglers and unscrupulous agencies" after defecting in 2013. Complicating matters was the fact that many players would try to establish residency in a third country before going to the U.S. so they could be signed as international free agents instead of having to declare for the amateur draft.

Things weren't this difficult for all players. Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, for instance, said it was as simple as walking out of his hotel while the Cuban national team was in Amsterdam for a tournament in 2009, getting in a car, and leaving. He did, however, have to leave his family behind, and wouldn't be reunited with them until years later.

Late last year, MLB and the CBF agreed to a deal that would end all this. The CBF would allow all players who are at least 25 years old and who have been playing professionally for six years to sign with major league clubs. The CBF could permit younger players to sign with MLB teams as well, if it so desired. In return, whichever MLB team signed any given player would have to pay the CBF a fee equal to a certain percentage of the contract ("20 percent of the first $25 million of a major league contract, 17.5 percent of the next $25 million," etc., according to the Associated Press). Clubs would also have to pay a fee equaling 25 percent of the signing bonus for players under the age of 25 to the CBF.

The process was supposed to be similar to how MLB teams obtain the rights to players from Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Under an agreement reached between MLB and Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) in 2017, for instance, NPB teams would receive similar release fees from MLB clubs based on how much money a player signed for.

Earlier this month, the CBF released 34 players who were eligible to sign with MLB teams. Less than a week later, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sent a letter to MLB warning that this could not go on. "Payments to the Cuban Baseball Federation are not authorized," the Friday letter read, according to ESPN, "because a payment to the Cuban Baseball Federation is a payment to the Cuban government."

"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," National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis added to the AP. "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."

National Security Adviser John Bolton expressed similar sentiments on Twitter on Sunday. He also suggested that by paying the CBF release fees, MLB is enabling Cuba to continue supporting the regime of Nicolas Maduro, the disputed president of Venezuela who's trying to hold onto power.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) took things a step further, suggesting Monday that the agreement between MLB and the CBF amounted to "legalized trafficking of persons."

This is a particularly bad argument, largely because it implies that forcing Cuban players to resort to paying shady smugglers to help them defect is a better solution than a deal that lets them come and go between Cuba and the U.S. without risking their lives or those of their families.

The CBF said as much in a statement to CNN: "The agreement with MLB seeks to stop the trafficking of human beings, encourage cooperation and raise the level of baseball. Attacks with political motivation against the agreement achieved harm [to] the athletes, their families and the fans."

To be clear, the CBF is not the proverbial "good guy" in this situation. If the organization really cared about its players' well-being, it would allow them to live where they please. The CBF can easily prevent those players from choosing to be smuggled out of the country by getting rid of the policies that drive them to defect in the first place.

But the Trump administration is at fault as well. "The MLB deal with Cuba solved a horrible human trafficking problem," James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, which promotes normalized U.S.-Cuba relations, told NBC News. "By breaking that deal, the White House now owns this and exposes Cuban players to human rights abuses."

The communist Cuban government undoubtedly has many policies in place that harm its own citizens. But as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and others have argued in Reason, enforcing an economic embargo against the country does nothing to weaken the Cuban government. If anything, it hurts the Cuban people who can't benefit from American investment.

This current situation is a perfect example. The deal between MLB and CBF meant talented Cuban players would have easier and safer access to fame, fortune, and all the trappings that come with them. The Trump administration says it's trying to look out for these ballplayers. But this move will undoubtedly make their lives harder. Unfortunately, it appears that taking a hardline stance against Cuba is more important than giving players the opportunity to safely come to the U.S.

And many players will still want to come over, as the financial incentive is enormous. (Puig has made more than $51 million in his MLB career, Abreu has earned nearly $69 million, and Chapman will have made more than $100 million by the time his current contract is up.) But they might have to risk their lives to do so.

"The biggest impact is going to be the guys who are back in Cuba," Chapman said before Monday night's game. "It's going to be tough, because now the opportunity's being taken away, and some of them still want to play here at this level. And, unfortunately, they might find themselves making difficult decisions in how to get here."

NEXT: Of Course the Country Isn't Full — and Trump Knows It

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  1. this policy i disagree with. also I hate the Yankees White Sox.

    1. This seems really stupid and petty. I can’t stand the Cuban government either. But I don’t see how allowing them to retain their baseball players as slaves does anything to help the situation.

      1. Can they take Puig back?

        1. dude I love Puig I would have him on all my teams.

          1. I would hate watching Puig everyday but the limited exposure of his idiotic antics makes me so happy he’s a part of baseball.

          2. I was clowning around.

            His antics don’t bother me too much.

            1. is this the Flames’ year? been awhile.

        2. He is a flake but at least he is not Manny Muchado.

          1. Manny Machado has to be top 5 douchebag in all of sports. He’s basically Bryce Harper if Bryce Harper played dirty.

        3. Puuuuiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig, as the fans like to say.

  2. Has John Bolton ever made a positive contribution?

    1. He provided the world with a look of a great mustache?

    2. If only the Fuhrer knew….

  3. MLB should try working out an agreement with the North Korean Baseball League or the Iranian Baseball League, see how that works out. Sanctions against foreign governments have the unfortunate by-product of causing harm to innocent civilians, but that’s not a deal-breaker, just part of the cost/benefit analysis.

    1. It has been the policy of the United States since Sherman went through Georgia that the civilian population/infrastructure is a legitimate military target. Sanctions are SUPPOSED to hurt the (alleged) ‘innocent civilians’; they are the ones that need to rise up and overthrow the oppressors.

  4. The embargo is and always has been a ridiculous failure.

  5. “The administration believes the agreement violates the decades-old economic embargo on Cuba, which may be true. But”

    And everything after the “but” is unnecessary. The embargo does need to be lifted, but having the administration ignore it isn’t the right way to go. Lifting the various embargoes is the business of the Legislature.

    Actually, the proper course with Cuba is, and always has been, invasion the moment that such action wouldn’t start a war with the USSR.

    1. Ding. We have an economic embargo. I don’t necessarily agree with embargoes but I think a ban on payments to embargoed governments seems like a reasonable enforcement of an embargo.

    2. I just read the invasion part. Wtf. Not ding. Fuck that noise.

  6. old white farts who watch baseball(essentially the fanbase) everywhere probably celebrate this decision. Also the cubans in florida seem to be excited about this as well.

    1. That’s actually pretty cool.

      I thought Cubans might be upset over this embargo, but I’m glad they are excited about this!

      White knights should also be in great spirits.

      Making a minority group happy is the purest and most noble type of government policy!

  7. “legalized trafficking of persons”

    Like a train or an airplane? Maybe a bus?

  8. Actually having to convince Congress to lift the embargo is just too damn hard. Having a strong man dictate reversing the policy is just so much easier.

  9. Typical Reason BS. Import a bunch of swarthy foreigners so they can steal jobs from hardworking Americans.

  10. Too Bad. Let them play in Venezuela.

  11. What are the players doing to undermine the regime?

  12. it implies that forcing Cuban players to resort to paying shady smugglers to help them defect is a better solution than a deal that lets them come and go between Cuba and the U.S. without risking their lives or those of their families.

    Well, yes. A little money being paid to some little criminals is better than lots of money going to a murderous gang that holds 11 million people in slavery.

    I mean, really, how is this even a question? The only thing they’re trading for the money is letting 0.0001% of the people out of the chains they slapped on them. You don’t fucking get to pretend it’s humanitarian to buy slaves from them by pointing to the fact that slavery is awful; you are rewarding their slaving.

    Hey, if they announce they’re going to execute a thousand infants if we don’t give them a billion dollars, should we pay that, too? How can we make those infants pay for the sins of their government?

    You want to refrain from fucking shooting the slavers dead because of various practical difficulties, or because the US military should be protecting Americans instead of Cubans, or whatever other reason, fine, there are arguments to be made. You even want to engage in genuine trade for things that are legitimate articles of trade, fine, the world isn’t perfect, and where the line is to be drawn is complicated.

    But this idea? This is bullshit.

  13. To put pressure on the Cuban government to change its policies put pressure on its people.

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  15. I heard that Trump administration said that the deal constituted a violation of trade laws because the Cuban federation was part of the government in Havana.
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