CubaBrief: The Wall Street Journal: Baseball Teams Up With Castro

Why should Americans subsidize Raúl Castros repression, participate in the Cubans’ exploitation? Many Americans were appalled recently when they learned about the exploitation of Cuban physicians sent abroad as indentured servants.

Now Major League Baseball wants to partner with Raul Castro in his state-run-human-trafficking operation. Baseball players, no human being, should be treated as chattel.

In the XIX century Cubans refused to attend the bull fights which they identified with Spain’s colonial rule and instead play baseball, the symbol of America and freedom.

Baseball executives do not know that history.

Senator Marco Rubio has called on the Administration not to approve the deal.

Please read below Mary O’Grady’s column on the subject.

OPINION THE AMERICAS

Baseball Teams Up With Castro

A league deal with Cuba benefits the business but treats players like chattel.

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

Dec. 30, 2018 2:55 p.m. ET

Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers general manager who signed Jackie Robinson to break baseball’s color barrier, said “ethnic prejudice has no place in sports, and baseball must recognize that truth if it is to maintain stature as a national game.”

More than 70 years after Robinson debuted at Ebbets Field, Major League Baseball has cut a deal with the Cuban military dictatorship in which Havana will allow Cubans to play in the U.S. In exchange baseball will garnish their salaries and send the money to the regime. No other group of foreign players so oppressed at home is singled out for such treatment. This is another form of discrimination. Have baseball executives thought about how it looks when they conspire with the Cuban regime to treat these players like chattel?

The league is marketing the agreement as a demonstration of its concern for Cuban players. In fact, baseball is a business that wants the talent. So it is accommodating the dictatorship in Havana, which has been repressing Cubans for 60 years.

The regime already boasts the world’s largest state-run human-trafficking operation. For decades it has placed Cubans abroad to work for foreign companies or governments as indentured servants. Workers go “voluntarily” because their economic circumstances at home are so dire and they have no other options. But once abroad they receive a small fraction of what they earn; the rest goes to the Cuban state.

One big money-maker for the dictatorship has been the export of Cuban physicians and nurses throughout Latin America. Many have defected, carrying tales of privation and of being spied on so that they could not easily run away.

Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsanaro, who takes office Wednesday, has promised to end this practice in his country. Cuban health-care workers can stay in Brazil, Mr. Bolsanaro said, but only if they receive their pay directly. Cuba has already withdrawn the medics.

Cuba also forbids talented athletes to shape their own destinies. Denied the basic right of travel, aspiring Cubans often turn to smugglers. Some 90 top Cuban ballplayers have defected to play in the majors. Many escapes have been harrowing, such as the 2012 flight of Yasiel Puig, who signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

If Cubans were free, good ballplayers from the island could get free-agent status in the U.S. as long as they were over 25 and met experience requirements. But Cuba regards its citizens as state property.

Supporters of the Castro tyranny claim the players are stuck because of the U.S. embargo. But if that were the problem, baseball could seek and probably get a waiver from the Trump administration to sign them from Cuba. The idea that such a move would alter Raul Castro’s Cubans-for-hire racket is a daydream. So instead baseball executives have decided to sacrifice the players’ rights to placate the regime.

The Washington Post reported that the deal will “eliminate the need for Cuban players to defect.” In fact, Cuba says the deal blocks players from signing with major-league teams if they defect. They remain the property of the regime, which according to the Post will take between 15% and 25% of their earnings. That’s roughly what smugglers demand for transport out of Cuba. But as sports consultant Joe Kehoskie told the Post, they will sign “less-valuable contracts” under the “restrictive [release] system or draft, rather than as free agents.” So the league gets cheaper talent in exchange for enforcing regime control of the players.

Whether the Trump administration will go along with this arrangement remains an open question. Guidance provided to Major League Baseball by the Obama administration in 2016 gave something of a green light on grounds that the Cuban Baseball Federation is an independent body. But that’s laughable, especially with Fidel Castro’s son Antonio a vice president of the federation.

Major League Baseball likens the deal to its practice of dipping into Japanese players’ pay to compensate their league back home—rather different from teaming up with one of the world’s most despotic regimes.

Fresh off years of doping scandals, baseball can ill afford the headline that it is now in business with Raul Castro at the expense of young Cubans. So it is spinning its deal by claiming, as a Major League official told me, that its “intentions are pure.”

That would be more believable if league executives didn’t have a history of kowtowing to Havana. In 1999 then-Commissioner Bud Selig came home from a trip to Cuba enthralled with Fidel Castro. In a 2016 interview in New York’s Daily News, he raved about staying up till 3 a.m. with the dictator during his “amazing” visit.

To be sure, the players are better off in the U.S. than they would be remaining in Cuba, but the league’s claim that its Cuban players support the agreement is hard to believe despite some public comments to that effect. Many still have family in Cuba and understand that they either fall in line with the regime or will be banned from the island.

Major League Baseball is not the first business to put money over morality. But let’s not pretend that its partnership with Cuba’s military dictatorship has anything to do with the players’ interests.

Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.