U.S. block, Cuba denied participation

Because U.S. government blocks, Cuba, one of the most powerful team in baseball might not be able to join World Baseball Classic next March.

The U.S. government has informed World Baseball Classic organizers that Cuba has been denied permission to send a team to the tournament. Major League Baseball was also told by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, according to Patrick Courtney, a spokesman of the commissioner’s office.

A permit from OFAC is required because of U.S. laws governing commercial transactions with Cuba. “It is our policy that we do not confirm, deny or discuss licenses,” Treasury spokeswoman Molly Millerwise said. “Generally speaking, the Cuba embargo prohibits entering into contracts in which Cuba or Cuban nationals have an interest.”

Bush administration has been tightening U.S. trade and travel sanctions on Havana over the past year in a declared bid to deny resources to the government there and prepare the way for political changes once Cuban leader Fidel Castro is no longer in power. In recent months, several Cuban music groups, academics and scientists have been denied U.S. visas.

U.S. officials are particularly intent on denying Cuba the chance to earn any income in the United States. Michael Parmly, chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, said Monday that the administration is against Cuban cultural and other groups from going to the United States, for example, because much of the money they earn goes directly to the Cuban government.

It’s unknown how much money the Cuban baseball team might have earned by playing in the Classic. Tournament profits will largely be determined by how much money its organizers can get for the broadcast rights, and that contract is still being negotiated. It’s likely that network offers and souvenir and ticket sales would drop now that Cuba is apparently out of the games. ESPN is believed to be among the networks involved in the bidding.

Paul Archey, the senior vice president of Major League Baseball International, and Gene Orza, the chief operating officer of the Major League Baseball Players Association, issued a joint statement saying the WBC would try to reverse the decision.

“We are very disappointed with the government’s decision to deny the participation of a team from Cuba in the World Baseball Classic,” Archey and Orza said. “We will continue to work within appropriate channels in an attempt to address the government’s concerns and will not announce a replacement unless and until that effort fails.”

“There’s always the option of an appeal. Major League Baseball’s official position is: We want Cuba to play,” said Ronaldo Peralta, who runs Major League Baseball’s office in the Dominican Republic.

“Let’s leave the politics out of this,” New York’s Democratic Rep. Jose E. Serrano said. “The World Baseball Classic should not be tainted by our grudge against Cuba’s government. Cuba produces some of the finest baseball talent in the world, and they deserve to participate. Let’s let them play baseball so fans worldwide can enjoy this great tournament as it was meant to be.”

However, Miami Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart has different thought, said “The administration has appropriately and correctly denied the Cuban dictatorship’s participation in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.” He also claims that Cuba’s participation would “allow a state sponsor of terrorism to use U.S. currency to finance its machinery of oppression.”

Diaz-Balart had previously urged Major League Baseball to allow Cuban-born players who are playing in the United States to form a “Cuba” team for the World Baseball Classic. Díaz-Balart also wrote to Commissioner Bud Selig last week, “It is difficult to believe that major league baseball would have invited a team from apartheid-era South Africa to participate in a tournament.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said Cuba should not be allowed to participate because the island’s repressive policies touch every facet of Cuban life.

Based on schedule announced last week, Cuba was scheduled to play first round at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, facing Panama on March 8, the Netherlands on March 9 and Puerto Rico on March 10. If the Cuba advanced, they would also play second-round in Puerto Rico.

If Cuba can’t play, a possibility is to let either Nicaragua or Colombia to be 16th participant. Paul Archey has said that the next option is replacing the missing Cuba team with either Nicaragua or Colombia, with Nicaragua the most likely choice.

Several Cuban-American players currently in the majors may also be ready to take Cuba’s place, but the idea have shunned because the WBC rules require that teams be represented by their own national baseball federations. Which means pitchers like Jose Contreras, Orlando Hernandez and Livan Hernandez, Michael Tejera, Alex Sanchez and Rey Ordonez could not play for Cuba.

Besides, players might not be interested in representing their former homeland. Livan Hernandez now lives in Puerto Rico and has stated his interest in representing Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.

Last month, President Fidel Castro gave his permission for the Cuban team to participate the World Baseball Classic and said the players on the Cuban national team would be better than those who have left the island for the United States. “We will participate and demonstrate that we know what to do in baseball,” Castro said.

Cuba has dominated almost all international competition from 1960s till today, continuing to win virtually every international tournament even after the inclusion of professionals. Its lone loss in medal-round play is Sydney Olympic Games, when the U.S. sent top minor leaguers, like Ben Sheets, to win 2000 Olympic gold-medal.

While the Cuban national baseball team is a powerhouse, it has never faced top professional players in a tournament because no current major league players can play international amateur events until World Baseball Classic.

Cuban national team has once visited United States, who played one exhibition game with Baltimore Orioles in Camden Yards in 1999, and two teams also played an exhibition game in Cuba.

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