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Posted December 12, 2005 by publisher in Cuban Sports

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By MEGHAN CLYNE - Staff Reporter of the NY Sun

Baseball is in Congress’s crosshairs again - and this time it’s not performance-enhancing drugs, but Communist Cuba’s participation in an upcoming international tournament sponsored by Major League Baseball that is under fire from Capitol Hill.

Cuban-American leaders in Congress are urging the league’s commissioner, Allan “Bud” Selig, to rescind an invitation to the Castro dictatorship to field a team for the league’s inaugural World Baseball Classic. The members of Congress want instead to allow free Cubans to represent the island nation. The Bush administration, too, is being pressed to deny the league’s application for a license that would permit Cuba - a State Department-identified state sponsor of terrorism, subject to a Treasury embargo - to participate in the tournament.

The first World Baseball Classic is an 18-day, four-round international tournament established and sponsored by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association. According to the league, the tournament, to be held in March, will feature 16 teams from North America, Asia, Europe, Australia, Africa, and Latin America, and will be played in Tokyo, San Juan, Florida, Arizona, and California.

Castro’s Cuba was among the 16 countries invited to the tournament because of its membership in the International Baseball Federation, which has sanctioned the World Baseball Classic, and because of the quality of its baseball program, a spokesman for Major League Baseball, Richard Levin, told The New York Sun yesterday.

Invitations to the tournament, Mr. Levin said, were not sent to all 110 member nations of the IBAF, but “just to representative nations that would be able to field teams that would be competitive.”

The Castro regime’s acceptance of the invitation was confirmed only last week. During a five-hour appearance on state television earlier this month in which Mr. Castro discussed the tournament, the Associated Press reported, Mr. Castro denounced Cuban players “who cannot resist the millions of the major leagues” and said that baseball “is the sport in which we have been beaten the most” by defections, but added: “When one leaves, another 10 better players emerge.”

Outrage over Mr. Castro’s involvement in the World Baseball Classic led Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Republican of Florida, to urge Mr. Selig to allow some of the defectors little-missed by Mr. Castro to represent Cuba in the upcoming tournament, rather than a team chosen by the dictatorship.

In a letter sent to the commissioner late last week, Mr. Diaz-Balart wrote: “It is difficult to believe, Mr. Selig, that MLB would have invited a team from apartheid-era South Africa to participate in a tournament. Yet you have invited a totalitarian dictatorship which has murdered thousands and imprisoned hundreds of thousands for the ‘crime’ of supporting freedom and democracy.”

“It is my understanding,” the congressman continued, “that during the 2005 MLB season, there were 22 Cubans or Cuban-Americans on major league rosters and 62 such players on minor-league rosters. Surely these Cubans can form a team to compete for their home country. Many such players, I am certain, would be honored to represent Cuba, and not Cuba’s oppressors, in the WBC.”

Communist China will participate in the tournament, but the World Baseball Classic will also include a free Chinese team competing for Taiwan.

According to tournament rules published on Major League Baseball’s Web site, a player may represent a country of which he is a citizen; of which he is a permanent legal resident; in which he was born; of which one parent is or was a citizen, or in which one parent was born.

Mr. Levin said yesterday that he was not aware of the congressman’s letter, adding that it was up to the participating national federations to select their players. “We have no control over who plays for each of the national federations,” Mr. Levin said. “They pick themselves.” In Cuba’s case, the nation’s team will be selected by the state-controlled Federacion Cubana de Beisbol.

Mr. Levin declined to comment on the specifics of Mr. Diaz-Balart’s letter, but said the league wants Cuba to play in the tournament. “In our view, this is an athletic event, not a political event,” the spokesman said.

Cuba’s participation, Mr. Levin cautioned, was contingent on pending approvals from the Treasury Department, which is also embroiled in the dispute.

Mr. Diaz-Balart also wrote last week to Treasury Secretary Snow, asking him to reject Major League Baseball’s request for a license that would permit Cuba to receive money from the World Baseball Classic.

Mr. Levin told the Sun that the national federations, including Cuba’s, “would be getting some funding from the tournament.” Such transfers would require the approval of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which oversees enforcement of America’s embargo against the Castro regime.

Approving the license, Mr. Diaz-Balart wrote to Secretary Snow, “would be in direct violation of U.S. policy. This license would allow a State Sponsor of Terrorism to use U.S. currency to finance its machinery of oppression.”

Yesterday a Treasury Department official told the Sun that the department could neither confirm nor deny the license request’s approval, but added: “Anything that would result in money going to the regime would be very, very carefully vetted.” One observer familiar with the license discussions said it was very unlikely that Castro’s Cuba would participate in the tournament because, while the Bush administration had not yet made an announcement, it was expected that the license requests would be denied.

In the meantime, another Cuban-American member of Congress supportive of Mr. Diaz-Balart’s actions, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican of Florida, warned of the inhumane treatments that would await Cuba’s World Baseball Classic team.

“Castro uses baseball as a propaganda vehicle,” Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said, “and surrounds Cuban players with round-the-clock security so they are unable to defect in the U.S.”

“Castro,” the congresswoman added, “also forces the families of players to stay on the island to ensure that the athletes will come back. They are not free to decide their fate.”

If it participates, the Cuban team will play the first rounds of the tournament against teams from Panama, the Netherlands, and Puerto Rico in San Juan, Puerto Rico. If Cuba’s baseball team, which has won gold medals in three of the last four summer Olympics, advances to the semi-final and final rounds, it will play at San Diego’s PETCO Park.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on December 12, 2005 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    One hit wonder Diaz-Balart said “Yet you have invited a totalitarian dictatorship which has murdered thousands and imprisoned hundreds of thousands for the ‘crime’ of supporting freedom and democracy.”

    Is he talking about China or Cuba. China can play, he has no problem with that.

    This is the only guy that can make baseball sound like an endorsement of the Castro government. Again, what an idiot. And this is the type of guy sticking to the “Plan A” Embargo to defeat the Castro regime. How’ that Embargo going? Is Fidel ready to give up after 45 years?

    Diaz-Balart is really afraid that Americans will see how good Cuban baseball players are and will want to see more. Then we say “Why do we have an Embargo against Cuba?” and Diaz-Balart is afraid to loose his power grip on the old Cuban exiles.

    Cuba consulting services

  2. Follow up post #2 added on December 12, 2005 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    From Cuba Central:

    Some U.S. policy makers are working to keep Cuba out of the World Baseball Classic, an international tournament of the worldís best baseball players who will come together in March 2006.

    We think these opponents of Cubaís baseball team are really off-base, and we want your help in persuading Major League Baseball to keep up its nerve and urging the U.S. government to keep its mitts off the Cuban team.

    Sports help bring the world closer together. In the Olympics, North and South Korea have marched onto the field to play together. Table tennis helped usher in a new era of diplomacy and dÈtente between China and the United States. Football (what we call soccer) is a common language spoken from Moscow to Madrid to Maracaibo to Malaysia. At its best, sport is about peaceful competition.

    But when it comes to Cuba, scoring political points with the right-wingers in Miami is the only sport our government cares about. The Congressional delegation from South Florida is working to keep the team out of the tournament and out of the U.S. The State Department may deny visas to the players, and the Treasury Department may not approve a license for the Cuban team to receive funding from the World Baseball Classic like all other participating teams. Itís unsportsmanlike conduct, to say the least!

    Help us shout at the umpire—call Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and support his efforts to keep Cuba in the tournament. The public relations office number is (212) 931-7878.

    Baseball has a long tradition in Cuba; they started playing in 1878it is a national tradition that is just as important to Cubans as it is to Americans. Using politics to cut apart this common cultural bond is a grave mistake. Cubans and Americans will be better off with more contacts, not less. But U.S. policy makers just canít seem to get it, and this episode leaves us echoing the words of Yogi Berra: “Itís like deja vu all over again.”

    Please call Bud Selig (212) 931-7878 and ask him to make the right decisionlet Cuba play in the World Baseball Classic. Please send us an email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and let us know how your call went.

    Thanks for your support,

    The Cuba Central Team


    Cuba consulting services

  3. Follow up post #3 added on December 13, 2005 by Chuck Bailey

    When push comes to shove, the Cuban Exiles will have little effect on the long range direction of the next step in the civilization on the Island.
    The sugar plantation economy is over. They will have to join the 21 century thinking of a new viable economic base. Tourism, retirement complexes and health services.

  4. Follow up post #4 added on December 13, 2005 by jesusp with 246 total posts

    Let’ not be too hard on Mr. Diaz-Balart, he’ just nostalgic about the Batista days!

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