As MLB seeks legal entry to Cuba, Obama considers playing ball
By Daniel Trotta
HAVANA (Reuters) - Major League Baseball is asking the U.S. government for special permission to sign players in Cuba, handing the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama the opportunity to try some baseball diplomacy while dealing a setback to human traffickers.
The U.S. trade embargo generally bars MLB from any agreement directing money to the Cuban government, but the White House says baseball is one area where it can advance U.S. goals and the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has authority to allow a deal.
MLB and Cuba are closer than at any time since the 1959 revolution, as evidenced by a goodwill tour last week in which big leaguers, including Cuban defectors, gave clinics to Cuban youth.
"Indeed, baseball has a unique cultural significance to both the United States and Cuba. It is therefore an area where we can further our goals of charting a new course in our relations with Cuba and further engaging and empowering the Cuban people," a senior administration official told Reuters.
Since Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro broke with Cold War history and announced detente a year ago, Obama has asked Congress to repeal the embargo, but the Republican majority has resisted. Instead the administration has used other means to promote exchanges.
If MLB were able to sign players in Cuba, where baseball is the most popular sport, it could end a wave of defections in which Cuban ballplayers put themselves in the hands of human traffickers and risk their lives on illegal journeys at sea.
Some 130 ballplayers have defected this past year, according to Cuban journalists.
But the best players on the island remain off limits, and the Cuban government stops them from leaving without permission, leading those with big-league dreams to turn to smugglers. In some cases, organized crime rackets force players to sign over huge cuts of future earnings, threatening players and their families. Continued...