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White House Cancels MLB-Cuba Deal Made Under Obama Administration


The Trump administration is striking out Major League Baseball, at least when it comes to players from Cuba. The White House is canceling a historic agreement that was signed just four months ago. It would have allowed Cuban players to join big league teams in the U.S. directly. They would no longer have to defect off the island before signing a baseball contract. Here's more from NPR's Carrie Kahn.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The deal announced in December allowed Major League Baseball to sign players directly from Cuba's Baseball Federation. The Trump administration, however, called that deal foul, saying the Cuban Federation is an arm of the communist regime and, therefore, off-limits to do business with a U.S. company. According to a senior Trump administration official, the Obama-era negotiated deal was tantamount to official human trafficking and allowed the Cuban government to use the players as pawns.

In a statement, MLB defended the deal, saying, we stand by the goal of the agreement, which is to end the human trafficking of baseball players from Cuba. For decades, Cuban stars have had to find a way off the island, mostly at the hands of human traffickers and smugglers, before landing a contract. That's how right fielder Yasiel Puig defected from Cuba.


JOE BUCK: Delivers to Puig, and he smashes another one - deep left center field. That is going, and that is gone. How do you like this guy?

KAHN: Fox Sports announcers touted the now Cincinnati Reds' two home runs last month in a spring season game against Cleveland. Puig's been playing in Major League Baseball since leaving Cuba in 2012, when he allegedly endured kidnapping by a Mexican cartel that rumored payments for years to middlemen, who smuggled him off the island.

Advocates for warmer relations with Cuba say Trump's cancellation of the MLB agreement will just encourage more of that same smuggling and human trafficking. James Williams of Engage Cuba - a group that advocates for closer ties with Cuba - says Trump canceled the landmark agreement without offering any alternative.

JAMES WILLIAMS: All it does is make it worse. And it's really just about politics, not trying to solve a real issue, which is human trafficking.

KAHN: Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida lobbied to end the agreement, arguing that the Cuban Baseball Federation is part of the Cuban government. The Obama administration had ruled it was independent. In a tweet, the Cuban Baseball Federation called the cancellation an attack with political motivations that will harm athletes, their families and the fans.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOGO PENGUIN'S "WINDOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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