According to the Washington Post, the Cuban government is attempting to use baseball as a diplomatic tool to end the economic trade barrier with the United States.
The aim of this move is to find an avenue that will allow Cuban players to come to the United States legally and in a much safer manner to play in Major League Baseball.
The United States removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism this past year, along with reopening its embassy in the capital of Havana.
It is also worth noting that airline services are preparing to re-start regular service between American cities and Cuba sometime this year, allowing many Americans the once rare opportunity to travel to a country that for the most part has been untouched by American influence.
President Obama confirmed last month that he will be visiting Cuba later this month with his wife and First Lady, Michelle Obama, making him the first sitting president to visit the country since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. The trip is said to be a symbolic show of friendship between the two baseball-mad nations and many hope it will lead to future progress in relations between both countries and a gateway for economic trade.
According to the Post, Obama’s visit will consist of attending an exhibition game between the Cuban national team and the MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays on March 22 at Estadio Latinoamericano; it will be the first time since 1999 that a Major League team has played on Cuban soil.
“During a time of historic change, we appreciate the constructive role afforded by our shared passion for the game, and we look forward to experiencing Cuba’s storied baseball tradition and the passion of its many loyal fans,” Major League Commissioner Robert Manfred said in a statement regarding the March 22 game between the Rays and Cuban national team.
Cuba’s own commissioner of baseball, Heriberto Suarez, also expressed his sentiment on the game, stating that “this is extremely important to the future of Cuban baseball, to the relationship between our two countries,” and added that both countries should take advantage of the moment.
The hopes of a legitimized path for Cuban players to enter the United States comes with the background history and stories of athletes who have fled the Cuban country with the help of smugglers or run off when their Cuban team is playing in international tournaments.
And though many Cuban players have successfully fled Cuba to the United States, their journey’s were often filled with the type of danger that saw many at the mercy of human traffickers, gangs, and cartels as they attempted to cross Central America and Mexico in hopes of reaching the U.S.
Once they reach the U.S. these Cuban players must defect, establish residency, and sign affidavits that prohibits them from returning to Cuba before they can sign with an American team.
A new deal between the MLB and Cuban officials would hope to provide a safer alternative to these talented and very-much deserving athletes that also does not require them to defect from their country.
And despite both parties desire to strike such a deal, MLB lawyer, Dan Halem has stated that the deal will not take place during Obama’s visit due to the fact that many of the league’s players’ contracts do not expire until December of this year.
Halem went on, stating that, “This is an involved and complicated issue, but our ultimate goal is to have everybody agree on a process that will allow us to have Cuban players who want to play in the U.S. to have that opportunity without having to endure many of the hardships that have been reported,” Halem said. “We’re trying to be creative and think of possible avenues that would fully comport with our law, with Cuban law and potentially allow this to go forward.”
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