MLB asks US govt for special permission to sign Cuban players
Major League Baseball has asked the US government for special dispensation to sign players from Cuba and thereby circumvent the US trade embargo on the country.
The embargo bars MLB from directing money to the Cuban government, but the league has argued that since baseball is a strong common factor between Cuba and the US, there is an opportunity for the government to conduct ‘baseball diplomacy.’
Since US President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro announced a detente last December, Obama has asked Congress to repeal the embargo on Cuba, but has been thwarted by the Republican majority. Instead, the Obama administration has used other means to improve ties, including cultural and sporting exchanges.
As the most popular sport in Cuba, baseball holds a special place in US-Cuba relations and offers the biggest opportunity yet for trade relations to improve. Last week saw a goodwill tour take place in Cuba where big leaguers, including Cuban defectors, gave baseball clinics to Cuban youths.
Opponents of the proposed deal are wary of revenue going directly to the Cuban government while at the same time favoring the multi-billion-dollar MLB industry, especially since the White House's preference is for any trade exceptions to support Cuba's private sector.
MLB argues that the deal would provide a safe, legal passage for Cuban baseball players to travel to the US, and would help curb illegal human trafficking. However, it will be politically tricky for the Obama administration to approve a deal that is likely to be derided by the Republicans, especially in the build-up to the 2016 elections.
The League asked the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for a specific license in early June to enter into a deal with the Cuban government that will allow MLB to sign Cuban players.
As the Cuban government's goal is to strengthen its domestic league, they will be able to collect revenue in different forms, such as a percentage on player salaries paid to Cuba by MLB, taxation on players’ income and compensation for player rights.
The OFAC has the latitude to grant such licenses and although nothing is official yet, MLB Chief Legal Officer Dan Halem told Reuters that the proposal had a chance of success.
"There's a willingness on the part of our government to end the trafficking. The White House has been very sympathetic to helping us end some of the abusive practices," Halem said.