The U.S. government is trying to deny the Cuban national baseball team the right to play in the World Baseball Classic scheduled for March 3-20.
The Treasury Department told Major League Baseball (MLB) of its decision to block Cuba’s participation in games on U.S. and Puerto Rican soil on Dec. 14, and the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces the U.S. economic blockade, confirmed the announcement.
The announcement came after right-wing Cuban American members of Congress urged the Treasury to veto the MLB’s license application and asked the league to drop the Cuban team from the tournament, suggesting that failure to do so would amount to aiding Cuba’s socialist government.
The Treasury decision provoked widespread protests, including from Puerto Rico, host of the first round of games, the world baseball federation and the Major League Baseball Players Association.
“Without Cuba, the International Baseball Federation will withdraw its approval of the event,” Aldo Notari, president of the IBAF, said in Jan. 9 radio interview. “And if the IBAF does that, national federations will not be able to register their teams for the World Baseball Classic.”
“There is an article in the Olympic Charter saying it clearly: any kind of discrimination on political, racial or religious grounds is unacceptable,” Notari told “Radio 1120 AM” of Puerto Rico. “IBAF cannot endorse a tournament in which Olympic rules are not being respected without leaving the Olympic movement altogether.”
Puerto Rico’s baseball federation said it will refuse to host the first round of the games, as planned, if Cuba is not allowed to participate. A colony of the United States since the Spanish American War of 1898, Puerto Rico nonetheless insists it has the right to determine who can or cannot enter its territory. It has suspended the sale of tickets to the games until the situation regarding the Cubans is resolved.
In the U.S., Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) has begun circulating a letter addressed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Treasury Secretary John Snow, asking that Cuba be allowed to play. Over 100 congresspersons have signed the letter.
“Lets leave the politics out of this,” Serrano said in a statement. “The World Baseball Classic should not be tainted by our grudge against Cuba’s government. Cuba produces some of the finest talent in the world and they deserve to participate.”
Protests have come from U.S. players as well. “We are very disappointed with the government’s decision to deny the participation of a team from Cuba in the World Baseball Classic,” said Gene Orza, chief operating officer of the Major League Baseball Players Association, and Paul Archey, senior vice president of Major League Baseball International, in a joint statement.
The World Baseball Classic is the sport’s first World Cup-style tournament, consisting of an 18-day match up. It was originally organized to include 16 teams of mostly professional players from North and Latin America, Asia, Europe, Australia and Africa. Coordinated jointly by the commissioner’s office and the players’ union, the games are set to take place in Tokyo, Puerto Rico, Florida, Arizona and California.
Earlier this month, Cuban President Fidel Castro told the Panamanian press that he looked forward to the games. “We will participate and demonstrate that we know what to do in baseball,” he told reporters.
Cuba won the gold medal in baseball at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
José A. Cruz contributed to this story.