US government rolls back MLB, Cuba deal

The US government has moved to end a deal between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation, stating that the agreement initially reached under the administration of former President Barack Obama does not tie in with current views on the status of Cuba.

The historic deal, which was finally signed off in December, had been set to allow MLB clubs to pay the Cuban Baseball Federation a release fee equating to 25 per cent of each Cuban player’s signing bonus, meaning Cuban athletes would no longer be forced to defect to play in the North American league after having been barred from returning to their home country.

The agreement was put into place as the Obama administration had sought to encourage better relations with Havana following the historic divide between the two nations. However, this policy has been reversed by President Donald Trump, with the Associated Press news agency reporting that the Treasury Department informed MLB attorneys of its decision in a letter on Friday.

“The US does not support actions that would institutionalise 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.”

US law bans virtually all payments to the Cuban government under the 60-year embargo placed on the island, but MLB had argued that the Cuban Baseball Federation was under the aegis of the country’s National Olympic Committee and therefore independent of the state.

“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 Cuban Baseball Federation added on Twitter: “The deal with Major League Baseball is an attempt to stop human trafficking, encourage cooperation and elevate the level of baseball. The politically-motivated attacks on the deal hurt players, their families, and fans.”

The decision from the Trump administration comes just days after the Cuban federation released the first list of 34 players cleared to sign deals with MLB clubs.