Victory for Cuba, baseball and diplomacy

Higinio Vélez Carrión

The historic agreement reached between the Cuban Baseball Federation, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association is a testament to Cuba’s sovereignty and the unity of the Cuban people.

Revolutionary Cuba has been a sovereign and independent state since January 1, 1959, when a successful revolution occurred that led to the overthrow of the dictator Fulgencio Batista. The July 26 Movement, led by Fidel Castro, was the revolutionary vanguard organization that led the revolution.

Immediately after the revolution, the Cuban government enacted progressive reforms that benefited the Cuban people, such as land reform, and universal health care and education, just to name a few. In addition, Cuba exerted its sovereignty and no longer allowed Cuba to be the playground of the rich and wealthy, particularly those from the U.S.

The U.S. government retaliated by placing a blockade against the island. However, the U.S. and Cuba continued to share one national pastime: baseball. The blockade could not stop that.

This shared passion can be traced all the way back to 1868 in Lansingburgh, N.Y. Enrique “Steve” Bellán, the “father” of Cuban baseball, laced up his cleats for the first time in the U.S., playing six seasons in the National Association of Base Ball Players. At the end of 1874, Bellán participated in the first formal, organized baseball game in Havana, Cuba, where he was born.

Agreement ends trafficking

On Dec. 19, 2018, in Havana, the Cuban Baseball Federation (CBF) and Major League Baseball (MLB) along with the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) reached an agreement that will allow Cuban players to sign MLB contracts without defecting, which previously was the only way for a Cuban to play in the Major Leagues. This agreement effectively ends the practice of encouraging Cuban baseball players to defect  and eliminates the dangerous trafficking that had gone on for decades.

The agreement between all the parties — MLB, MLBPA, FCB — essentially guarantees the orderly and  nondiscriminatory presence of Cuban baseball players in U.S. baseball. Cuban players will be able to sign regular contracts with Major League teams without having to give up their Cuban residence or their connection with the teams they play with in Cuba.  

“Today is a happy day for Cuban baseball, for the world, the people of Cuba and the United States,” said Higinio Vélez Carrión, president of the CBF, at a news conference.

“The agreement will help curb illegal activities such as human trafficking, which for several years has put the lives and physical well-being of many young Cuban baseball talents and their families at risk. It is also part of the effort to continue strengthening the practice, enjoyment and development of the national sport. The agreement will have a positive impact for many athletes in the country, for national teams and the CBF,” he continued.

The MLBPA players’ union executive director, Tony Clark, said: “Establishing a safe, legal process for entry to our system is the most important step we can take to ending the exploitation and endangerment of Cuban players who pursue careers in Major League Baseball. The safety and well-being of these young men remains our primary concern.”

The agreement mirrors the rules for Cuban players under contract in Japan and South Korea, and  is binding through Oct. 31, 2021, expiring around the same time as the MLB-MLBPA union contract.