Finally, after waiting for almost a month about reapplied license, Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control decide to reverse decision and permit Cuba to be allowed to participate in the inaugural World Baseball Classic next spring.
Due to 45-year-old America sanctions against Cuba to prevent Fidel Castro’s government from receiving U.S. currency, special license is necessary for Cua to play in the 16-team tournament. However, the first first application was denied on Dec. 13th because Cuban spies might accompany the team based on spokesman Sean McCormack.
Commissioner’s office and the players’ association reapplied on Dec. 22 after Cuba said it would donate any profits it receives to victims of Hurricane Katrina, and U.S. government reversed course and issued the special license on Janauary 20th.
“The president wanted to see it resolved in a positive way,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. “Our concerns were centered on making sure that no money was going to the Castro regime and that the World Baseball Classic would not be misused by the regime for spying. We believe the concerns have been addressed.” He also said, “There will be some good baseball games in Puerto Rico,”
“Working closely with World Baseball Classic Inc. and the State Department, we were able to reach a licensable agreement that upholds both the legal scope and the spirit of the sanctions,” Treasury spokeswoman Molly Millerwise said. “This agreement ensures that no funding will make its way into the hands of the Castro regime.”
After the initial rejection, Puerto Rico threatened to withdraw as a host site, International Baseball Federation threatened to withdraw its sanction of the WBC if Cuba was not allowed to participate. International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said that any future U.S. bids to host the Olympics would have to ensure there would be no restrictions on participating nations.
Paul Archey, senior vice president of Major League Baseball International, and union lawyer Doyle Pryor went to Cuba on Jan. 10 and 11 to negotiate terms of Cuba’s participation that would be acceptable to the U.S. administration.
“Everybody involved in the tournament wanted the best teams in the world to be involved, and certainly Cuba is one of those teams,” U.S. manager Buck Martinez said. “Everybody feels pretty confident this is now really going to be a test of the best teams in the world.”
“We were always positive,” said Antonio Munoz, the promoter who paid millions of dollars to stage the first two rounds in San Juan. “There were some negative people, but they were wrong in the end.”
Japan manager Sadaharu Oh welcomed the decision. “I am glad. Now the top class will be participating,” Oh said. “If Cuba doesn’t take part, the WBC wouldn’t mean anything.”
Cuba won the Olympic gold medal in 1992, 1996 and 2004, and the United States won in 2000. Olympic baseball initially was limited to amateur players, but even after professionals were allowed in for the 2000 Sydney Games, only minor leageurs play. Major leaguers didn’t take part because MLB doesn’t stop its regular season for the Olympics.
However, even now Cuba is it, their roster is not expected to include defectors, such as Jose Contreras, Orlando Hernandez and Livan Hernandez, all them are in Major League now.
“The federal government thoughtfully and diligently helped us bring the application process to a successful conclusion,” Commissioner Bud Selig said. “Now, with Cuba’s entry in the tournament approved, the World Baseball Classic promises to be an historic event and will guarantee our fans the greatest possible competition among the best players in the world.”
“The license we have been given opens the way for the Cuban Baseball Federation’s participation, along with other federations from around the world, in the inaugural Baseball Classic,” MLB Players Association executive director Don Fehr said.
Cuba is in Group C with Panama, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands, playing the first-round in San Juan. If they advance (by being the top two teams of the group), the Cubans also would play second-round in San Juan. If they advanced then, the semifinals and final will be at Petco Park in San Diego on March 18-20.
In Havana, Cubans thought it is a “political home run” scored by their country. “Now we are going to see who is who,” said Renier, a baseball fan in Havana’s Central Park, “Washington changed its mind because the world of baseball was really annoyed about Cuba not being there.”
“Cuba will step up, of that I have no doubt,” said Ramon Enriquez, who was among baseball fans discussing the news at Havana’s Parque Central. “Those boys will play with that all-consuming courage.”
“Oh, magnificent! Tremendous!” exclaimed Osvaldo Herrera, who was standing on a street corner in Havana with three other sports lovers discussing Cuban baseball.
Although lots of people are happy, some Anti-Castro in Miami was disappointed about this decision. Cuban-American congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican, called the Bush administration’s reversal “lamentable and unfortunate,” and said the Cuban players should defect once they reach Puerto Rico.
“I hope that the Cuban players will use this opportunity to escape totalitarianism and reach freedom in the U.S.,” said Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American.
Cuban-born U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., also finds fault with the decision. “This is a disappointing reversal. Even though this decision allows the Cuban government to field a team, that team will not be wholly representative of Cuba,” said Sen. Martinez. “The Cuban government has already announced that Cuban players who defected to the U.S. to play in Major League Baseball will not be allowed to play for Cuba.”
Martinez said if it Major League Baseball hopes to remove politics from the World Baseball Classic, and focus on the athletic competition and pride of the countries involved, it should insist that Cuban-born players have a chance to play for Cuba.
“”Just like other Major Leaguers can play for their home-countries like David Ortiz and Miguel Olivo of the Dominican Republic or Johan Santana and Miguel Cabrera of Venezuela, so too should Orlando and Livan Hernandez and Jose Contreras and any other Cubans in the Majors be allowed to play for Cuba,” said the senator.
“I call on Major League Baseball to insist they play … They are Cuban; they have a right to represent Cuba if they so choose and that right ought to be respected.”