"The administration looks forward to working with Major League Baseball to identify ways for Cuban players to have the individual freedom to benefit from their talents, and not as property of the Cuban state".
The U.S. decision was the latest step by President Donald Trump to roll back the rapprochement with Havana, America's old Cold War foe, that was spearheaded by his predecessor, Barack Obama.
President Trump's administration has canceled a deal between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) that would have allowed Cuban players to come to the United States without defecting, reports the Washington Post.
Last week, Cuba's baseball league said 34 players would be eligible to sign contracts directly with USA teams.
It was created to end the often unsafe pattern of ambitious Cuban stars seeking to join the major leagues by defecting and arranging to smuggle themselves out of Cuba with the aid of human traffickers. Players could keep 100 percent of a signing bonus, with the MLB paying 25 percent of that amount to the Cuban Baseball Federation as a release fee.
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The present administration determined that "a payment to the Cuban Baseball Federation is a payment to the Cuban government", effectively shutting the avenue for making a deal within the existing legislative and regulatory systems.
"We stand by the goal of the agreement, which is to end the human trafficking of baseball players from Cuba", an MLB statement said. The MLB deal, he said, would have allowed Cuban players "to enter legally rather than falling into the hands of traffickers and having to risk their lives".
Cuban MLB players who had defected include Yasiel Puig of the Cincinnati Reds, Yoenis Cespedes of the New York Mets and Jose Dariel Abreu of the Chicago White Sox - all of whom have signed multi-year, multimillion-dollar contracts.
The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control sent a letter to MLB on Friday that said "payments to the Cuban Baseball Federation are not authorized. because a payment to the Cuban Baseball Federation is a payment to the Cuban government". It's definitely hard for a lot of Cuban players who are not playing at this level here in the States. "But the way we got here, it was tough - to say the least". Others abandoned the Cuban national team while playing overseas. Trump has especially stepped up pressure on Cuba recently over its support for Venezuela's socialist president, Nicolas Maduro. One year earlier, he attempted to defect Cuba, but that plot was foiled, and he was eventually kept off the Cuban team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, according to ESPN.
"It's a humanitarian issue for these Cuban players and their families", Rhodes said. For me and a lot of our fellow Cuban players who have already established ourselves here in this country, we're fortunate enough to have our families here.