The Trump administration has reversed an Obama-era policy which stated Cuba's baseball federation was separate from the country's government, and has blocked Major League Baseball from signing players directly from the Communist nation to play in the United States.
The administration's decision abrogates a deal MLB and Cuba's baseball federation agreed to in December, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Obama administration's policy had paved the way for the deal, which dictated that the baseball federation would get a fee for each player signed.
According to the terms of the deal, Cuba "would release players who had achieved a certain age or professional-service time requirements, allowing MLB teams to sign them." Players would be allowed to keep their Cuban citizenship, come to the United States with their families, and return to Cuba during the offseason. MLB teams would pay a portion of contracts with the Cuban players to the Cuban baseball federation.
On Friday, the Treasury Department reversed the Obama-era position, telling MLB's counsel that "a payment to the Cuban Baseball Federation is a payment to the Cuban government."
"We will continue to take actions to support the human rights of the Cuban people and restrict the Cuban regime's ability to benefit disproportionately from U.S. business at the expense of the Cuban people," a spokeswoman for the State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs said on Monday. She also said new information has emerged concerning the Cuban baseball federation's relationship with the Cuban government.
MLB stands by the agreement's primary goal, which was to create a legal avenue for Cuban players to sign with American teams in order to avoid having to escape the island via human traffickers and smugglers. MLB's counsel wrote a letter to the Treasury and State Departments in January which pointed to the experiences of players including New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu.
"We stand by the goal of the agreement, which is to end the human trafficking of baseball players from Cuba," an MLB spokesman said on Monday.
The Trump administration suggested it wants to work with MLB on an alternative arrangement.
"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 said. "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."