On Monday, April 8, the Trump Administration canceled a proposed deal between the United States’ Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation.
The deal would have allowed Cuban baseball players to play for MLB teams without having to defect from Cuba. Days before this decision, the federation named 34 Cuban players they deemed eligible to play in the United States, whose futures are now unknown.
This deal would have been one in which parties from both countries would have benefited, as the MLB would gain potential stars from a country that breeds baseball legends, like Yasiel Puig and Jose Canseco, while Cuban players would have a much safer path to play in the United States.
Many Cuban players, like Puig for example, had to go through dangerous situations in order to play for Major League teams. In order for Puig to successfully defect from Cuba to Mexico, he had to be smuggled into the country by a murderous Mexican drug cartel, Los Zetas.
While his life was being threatened by Los Zetas, the cartel was able to sell Puig to a Miami business mogul for $250,000. The deal required Puig to give up 20 percent of his future earnings from the MLB, for the entirety of his career.
The deal that Trump struck down could have given Cuban players like Puig the opportunity to come to the United States safely, without having to leave their country, family, and friends behind forever.
“The agreement with MLB seeks to stop the trafficking of human beings… Attacks with political motivation against the agreement achieved harm (to) the athletes, their families and the fans,” the Cuban Baseball Federation said in a statement to CNN.
The MLB agreed, saying in the CNN article that they “stand by the goal of the agreement, which is to end the human trafficking of baseball players from Cuba.”
This past January, while the deal was still in negotiation, I had the privilege to go to Cuba and speak to Havana baseball legend Carlos Tabares. Tabares was a center-fielder for Havana’s Industriales as well as Cuba’s national team, who, with his help, won an Olympic gold medal in 2004.
Tabares explained to my group that his dream was to come to the U.S. and play in the MLB. While he loved playing for his country, the prospect of playing on the biggest stage in the world was always a long-term goal for him. Not to mention, the highest earners in Cuban baseball make around $208 a month — $2,496 a year— while the league average annual salary in the MLB is $4.38 million.
The Industriales outfielder was heavily recruited by MLB teams after his Olympic win, but the downsides to having to defect from Cuba were too severe. Tabares explained that if he got to the United States successfully, which was a dangerous mission in itself, he would have to cut off contact with his family in Cuba. While he had the opportunity to make millions, his wife and children would have seen none of it.
Yet these stories clearly did not move our president as much as they moved me, and he childishly decided to cancel the deal without much explanation. The administration cited that the deal’s requirement of a fee paid to the Cuban Baseball Federation would technically be illegal, due to Cold War-era trade embargoes.
The Obama administration worked hard to remove the teeth from the blockades, as the Cold War is long gone and Cuba poses no threat to American prosperity or safety. Instead of continuing the former president’s efforts to bring democracy and security to our neighbor, Trump is doubling-down on stale legislation.
It’s time to leave our red scare in the past, and not fear negotiations with countries like Cuba. Let’s put American ideals of safety, security, prosperity and baseball first and create a mutually beneficial, long-lasting relationship with our Caribbean neighbor.