The Impossible Agreement

Higinio Vélez, president of the Cuban Baseball Federation, signing the agreement with the MLB of the United States. (FCBA)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 9 April 2019 — It was expected that Donald Trump’s administration would cancel the agreement that the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) and Major League Baseball (MLB) authorities had achieved. As soon as it was signed last December, Senator Marco Rubio announced that he would act to undo it. Honestly, it didn’t take much effort to achieve that.

Passions aside, the heart of the matter is that, according to the laws of the US embargo, MLB teams can not pay any amount of money to the Cuban government. Although the Obama administration had considered the FCB as a non-governmental organization, for the Trump administration it is one more pro-government institution.

When the agreement was signed, its two weakest points became immediately evident. The first is that the FCB, to legitimize its agreement with MLB, tries to compare itself with the Japanese Baseball League, the Chinese Professional Baseball League and the Korean Baseball Organization, which are private entities, independent of their governments.

On Cuban television, Higinio Vélez, president of the FCB, used two arguments that prove nothing at all to demonstrate that his organization is, in effect, nongovernmental: First, that the FCB “has existed for some years,” and second, that “it is recognized by organizations such as the World Baseball and Softball Federation, the Pan-American Baseball Confederation and other international institutions related to this sport.”

The other weak point is the clause allows that the FCB to charge a percentage for releasing each player and for the training given to him. For this, a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control — an arm of the Department of the Treasury of the United States — is required, which the Trump Government will not allow.

The FCB claims to be a non-governmental association. In other words, the same as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and the Federation of Cuban Women, which the Cuban government itself created but insists are part of civil society. However, the fact is that the FCB belongs to the National Institute of Sports and Recreation, whose presidency has just been changed by a decree of the Council of State. As a picturesque note, it must be added that the second in command of the FCB is Antonio Castro, son of the late Fidel Castro.

In the declaration of the Cuban entity with regards to the cancellation of the Agreement condemns the actions of Marco Rubio and US National Security Advisor John Bolton, along with the politicization that has been made of this sports agreement “mostly supported by both Cuban and American societies,” but the government of Cuban’s neighbor to the north is not interested in “the welfare and tranquility of the Cuban family.”

In fact, the FCB is trying to convince us, the main reason it signed the pact was to protect our players from human trafficking, the risks of illegal emigration and the “humiliating and discriminatory treatment of which they have been victims” previously.

To demonstrate its goodwill, the Cuban federation had accepted the return to the national baseball team of Yuniesky Riquimbili Betancourt, for many years considered a deserter, who returned after participating in foreign leagues in Mexico, Japan and the United States, where he played nine seasons and, he confessed, was able to realize his dream of proving himself in the best baseball in the world.

Almost at the same time of Betancourt’s arrival in Cuba, Victor Labrada departed, the first player to turn his back on the agreement, a few days ago, unconcerned about the possibility of spending two years without being able to sign a contract with MLB teams, or perhaps anticipating that this arrangement with Major Leagues did not have much future, as has just been demonstrated.

Labrada did not wait to be “liberated” by FCB. He had been chosen among the most outstanding youth athletes of 2018 and captained last year’s Cuban team to the Pan American Under 18. In the last National Series, Labrada grabbed attention when he hit a home run in the first at-bat of his career and finished with a .350 average. However, he preferred to strike out on his own and left legally for Haiti.

At the moment, everything will continue as it was before: every Cuban player, in order to play under the “Grand Tent,” will need a specific license from the US Department of the Treasury. In fact, it sounds absurd that the FCB seriously believed in the possibility that, had the agreement survived, it would be the organization mediating between each player and the team that wanted to hire him.

More absurd, and very cynical, it sounds like the Cuban sports authorities are trying to make us believe that they are really worried about the fate of our players in their dangerous adventure of finding a place in the best baseball in the world.

If they care so much about the players, they could pave the way for them by waiving the right to collect any percentage as a “nongovernmental organization, letting each one sign the contract that they get and, even more, allowing the creation of a truly independent union that looks after the interests of the players, because, as we know well, the FCB, whatever it says, has never dedicated itself to defending them.


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