CubaBrief: Castro regime loses lawsuit over unpaid debt in London. Another trafficked Cuban baseball player defects. Cuban oligarchs trying to pass as entrepreneurs

High Court in London, UK

On April 4, 2023 the Castro regime tried to spin a defeat in court into a victory. CNBC reported the following on the decision of the London Court.

That trial was about four issues: whether CRF could sue in the UK; whether the debts were properly transferred to the investment fund; whether the central bank could be sued; and whether the Cuban government was a guarantor on the debt and could be sued as well.

The judge ruled in favor of CRF on three of four of the issues. She said the High Court has jurisdiction, the debt was properly assigned to CRF, and that the former central bank is responsible.

Yet she ruled that Cuba itself is not a guarantor of the debt, a win for the communist nation.

The bottom line is that Havana “will likely face more — and costlier — lawsuits over billions of dollars’ worth of unpaid commercial debts from the 1980s after a decision Tuesday by a UK High Court judge,” reports CNBC.

Second player who played in the World Baseball Classic in Miami defects

On March 20, 2023 CFC welcomed news of Ivan Prieto, a bullpen catcher for Cuba’s national baseball team, reaching freedom. On April 5th news reports emerged that “Prieto, 26, signed with the Campeche Pirates to play in the Mexican Baseball League (LMB).”.

Cuban baseball player Yariel Rodríguez arrived in the Dominican Republic, and left his contract.

Baseball reporter Francys Romero broke the news over Twitter on March 28, 2023 that “Cuban pitcher Yariel Rodriguez (26) left his contract with the Chunichi Dragons and the Cuban Baseball Federation and will seek to sign with an MLB team in the near future. Rodríguez arrived in the Dominican Republic a few hours ago, per sources.”

A day later the Cuban Federation of Baseball, led by Fidel Castro’s son Antonio Castro, announced that the Cuban baseball player had breached a contract with them and that they would be seeking $10 million dollars from the 26 year old Cuban pitcher and that Yariel Rodriguez “may not be hired by any other club or third parties without the express authorization of the Federation.”

Is this the kind of deal that Major League Baseball has been seeking approval from the US Treasury Department since 2016?

The agreement reached between the Cuban Baseball Federation and Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball Organization in 2014 provides the Castro regime (a 20% cut of the contracts plus income tax) of Cuban players to the Castro regime while they play in Japan. Standard Bank Group reports that the income tax in Cuba for someone earning more than 50,000 CUPs is 50%. 50,000 CUP in US dollars is equal to $2,090 dollars. Therefore 70% of the Cuban baseball player’s salary overseas goes to the Cuban dictatorship.

This is not hyperbole, the point man in these dealings is Antonio Castro, Fidel Castro’s son, who represents the Castro regime’s Baseball Federation, and was named a vice-president in 2008.

Cuban Baseball Federation vice president Antonio Castro with his late father Fidel Castro.

While 72% of Cubans are living below the poverty line and many suffer malnutrition, Antonio Castro and his kin live the high life. For example, reports emerged in June 2015 of Antonio Castro Soto del Valle touring the Mediterranean aboard a 50-meter-long yacht, was photographed in Bodrum, a tourist area in Turkey, where he was staying in a five-star hotel. This became news when his body guards attacked paparazzi who were taking pictures of Castro leaving the restaurant. Mr. Castro was accompanied by 12 people in his entourage, “including Turkish friends and bodyguards.”

Antonio Castro and friends in Bordrum, Turkey in 2015. Daily Sabah

To be fair Antonio Castro is following the example set by his father Fidel Castro. The late Cuban dictator owned a private island, 20 mansions, yachts, and according to Forbes Magazine was worth $900 million.  In 2014 upon the release of La Vie Cachée de Fidel Castro (Fidel Castro’s Hidden Life) by the Cuban dictator’s former bodyguard Juan Reinaldo Sánchez, The Guardian published an article on May 20th that dispelled some of the myths about the communist leader.

Fidel Castro lived like a king with his own private yacht, a luxury Caribbean island getaway complete with dolphins and a turtle farm, and travelled with two personal blood donors, a new book claims. In La Vie Cachée de Fidel Castro (Fidel Castro’s Hidden Life), former bodyguard Juan Reinaldo Sánchez, a member of Castro’s elite inner circle, says the Cuban leader ran the country as his personal fiefdom like a cross between a medieval overlord and Louis XV. Sánchez, who was part of Castro’s praetorian guard for 17 years, describes a charismatic and intelligent but manipulative, cold-blooded, egocentric Castro prone to foot-stamping temper tantrums. He claims the vast majority of Cubans were unaware their leader enjoyed a lifestyle beyond the dreams of many Cubans and at odds with the sacrifices he demanded of them. “Contrary to what he has always said, Fidel has never renounced capitalist comforts or chosen to live in austerity. Au contraire, his mode de vie is that of a capitalist without any kind of limit,” he writes. “He has never considered that he is obliged by his speech to follow the austere lifestyle of a good revolutionary.”

The ten million dollars to be taken from Yariel Rodriguez, and the millions more already taken from other Cuban baseball players will not go to waste. The same can be said of the billions taken from Canadian and European taxpayers to subsidize the lifestyles of the Castro family, and their military junta.

Those yachts and five-star hotels will not pay for themselves.

Thanks to the U.S. embargo, and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA), the trade between American companies and the Cuban dictatorship does not involve loans, or credits subsidized by U.S. taxpayers that Havana, a notorious deadbeat, can default on.

In a country where there is no rule of law, and the most “successful entrepreneurs” like their Russian and Chinese counterparts is due to their relationship with the centers of power should raise concerns as to who they are empowering, and what they may be doing if they end up in the United States.

For example, Rodolfo Dávalos León is a Cuban national living in the United States who founded Caribbean Ventures Management LLC, a company incorporated in the state of Delaware in 2016, but headquartered in Coral Gables, Miami.  When protests erupted across Cuba on July 11, 2021, and the dictatorship’s future was in doubt, Mr. Dávalos León tweeted out “If the revolution falls you will find me in Cuba, with my father, knee on ground, rifle in hand, defending the work of Fidel. Long live Cuba, long live Raul, and long live Fidel!” 

Naturally, a few questions will arise. Who is his father? Who has he been meeting with in the U.S. to impact policy on Cuba? Has he registered as an agent of a foreign principal? However, one question that does not arise is if he will be on the vanguard of a democratic transition to Cuba. It is clear that he is one of those elements that will defend the continuation of the dictatorship with violence.

According to publicly available photos, Mr. Dávalos León met with Ben Rhodes in Coral Gables, FL and U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy in the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC.

Mr. Dávalos León met with Ben Rhodes in Coral Gables and U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy in Washington DC.

His father, Dr. Rodolfo Dávalos Fernández, is a is a professor of International Law at the University of Havana and president of the Cuban Court of International Commercial Arbitration. Dr. Dávalos Fernández is also a highly placed confidant of Fidel and Raul Castro.

Dr. Rodolfo Dávalos Fernández

Cuban independent journalist Ulises Fernández in a July 2021 piece for Cubanet filled in some of the gaps in the professor’s official record. Dr. Dávalos Fernández was present in  “every international litigation that involved the Cuban government as defendant, plaintiff, summoned party, or even referenced entity, in matters unpleasant in nature, since they always have to do with breach of contracts, frozen bank accounts, confiscations, accumulated debts, fraudulent practices against businessmen, blackmail, espionage and psychological manipulation..”

According to the regime’s official media Dr. Dávalos Fernández, is also “playing an essential role in the legal strategy of the case” before the UK High Court mentioned at the top of this Cuba Brief, and “has extensive experience in international litigation.”

Rodolfo Dávalos León, his son, is posing as an entrepreneur in South Florida, but he is the son of a Cuban oligarch with strong ties to the Cuban dictatorship’s inner circle.

CNBC, April 4, 2023

Business News

Cuba’s losses in case of Castro-era debt opens it up to more lawsuits

Published Tue, Apr 4 20233:11 PM EDT

Michelle Caruso-Cabrera


London High Court. Copyright: © John Allan and licenced for reuse under cc-by-sa/2.0

Key points:

  • Cuba will likely face more lawsuits over billions of dollars’ worth of unpaid commercial debts from the 1980s after a decision by a UK High Court judge.

  • The judge ruled mostly in favor of a fund that is seeking $72 million in principal and past due interest from Cuba.

  • The loans were granted to Cuba by European commercial banks in the 1980s, when Fidel Castro ruled the Caribbean nation, and were denominated in German Deutschmarks

Cuba will likely face more — and costlier — lawsuits over billions of dollars’ worth of unpaid commercial debts from the 1980s after a decision Tuesday by a UK High Court judge.

The judge ruled mostly in favor of CRF1, originally called the Cuba Recovery Fund. The fund filed suit against Cuba and its previous central bank, Banco Nacional de Cuba, in 2020 for roughly $72 million in principal and past due interest on two loans it now owns.

The loans were granted to Cuba by European commercial banks in the 1980s, when Fidel Castro ruled the Caribbean nation, and were denominated in German Deutschmarks, a currency that no longer exists.

Justice Sara Cockerill, who delivered Tuesday’s decision, oversaw a trial that started in late January and lasted two weeks and was beset by intrigue and chaos outside the UK High Court.  

That trial was about four issues: whether CRF could sue in the UK; whether the debts were properly transferred to the investment fund; whether the central bank could be sued; and whether the Cuban government was a guarantor on the debt and could be sued as well.

The judge ruled in favor of CRF on three of four of the issues. She said the High Court has jurisdiction, the debt was properly assigned to CRF, and that the former central bank is responsible.

Yet she ruled that Cuba itself is not a guarantor of the debt, a win for the communist nation.

David Charters, the CRF1 chair, described Cuba’s win as temporary, and based on a technicality. He said the fund on Tuesday filed once again with ICBC Standard Bank, the debt’s custodian, to have Cuba assigned as the guarantor. He said BNC has 28 days to respond and believes CRF will prevail.

“BNC was the Central Bank of Cuba and remains responsible for managing these unpaid Cuban debts,” he said. “Cuba won a technical point in this judgement which we have already remedied, and we do not expect this issue to impact the eventual final outcome, which is a complete victory for CRF.”

Lawyers for CRF said the fund can now proceed to a trial to determine whether it can recover “the sovereign debt that in unequivocally owns.

What the ruling means 

This trial was seen as a test case. CRF owns more than $1 billion in face value of Cuba’s defaulted debt. If CRF were to win on this small slice of Cuba’s total outstanding commercial debt, estimated at $7 billion, it could lead to lawsuits from CRF other debt holders.

The judge said Cuba’s description of CRF as a vulture fund “was not persuasive,” as the fund had made repeated attempts to settle with the Cuban government.

The judge also went to great lengths in the written judgement to emphasize that Cuba had withdrawn an accusation of bribery against one of CRF’s officers, Jeet Gordhandas. The judge said Gordhandas “has been damaged” as a result of the accusation.

If Cuba is ever to reenter the international capital markets, it will have to settle many outstanding debts.

“Cuba owes money, lots of money, to CRF, to governments, to companies, and $1.9 billion in 5,913 certified claims” to U.S. entities whose assets were seized during Fidel Castro’s communist revolution, said John Kavulich, longtime head of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. “Successive governments of Cuba have not been absolved by the decision of the court.”

The judge’s ruling also revealed more about the behind-the-scenes negotiations the fund attempted over the years. In March of 2021, the fund offered Cuba a zero-coupon instrument, with no principal payments for five years. In November of 2017, CRF offered to exchange “the balance of commercial debt for licenses, concessions and/or permits for large investment projects, in accordance with the priorities established in the portfolio of opportunities published by the Cuban government.”

Charters, the CRF chairman, said the fund would still prefer a negotiated solution rather than litigation.

“CRF remains committed to finding a solution with Cuba that has zero impact on its budget for at least 5 years, recognizing the difficult economic situation the country is facing,” he said. “We believe that a mutually beneficial solution can be reached through constructive dialogue and cooperation.”

Cuban officials declined to comment despite repeated requests. The Cuban government did publish an article in its state-run newspaper, Granma, with the headline: “Republic of Cuba wins lawsuit in London: CRF is not a creditor of the Cuban State.”

However, the article goes on to acknowledge that Banco Nacional de Cuba will be subject to litigation.

Reuters, April 6, 2023

In pioneering workshops, US trains Cuban entrepreneurs to do business

by Shawn Johnson April 6, 2023 in Finance

Cinco emprendedores cubanos Foto © Facebook Cubazon /Instagram ucicarlosmiguel /mandilegojorge /izaguirreloypa /cubadebate

HAVANA, April 6 (Reuters) – US venture capitalist Stacey Brandhorst has traveled to Latin America to mentor budding entrepreneurs. But Communist-run Cuba, she says, is a tougher nut to crack.

“Being an entrepreneur is one thing, but[being one]in Cuba is entirely another,” she told a group of about 50 Cubans in a hotel conference room in Havana recently.

Brandhorst, a business consultant in Oklahoma, began a series of in-person seminars last week that the US embassy in Havana says will offer tips to Cuban entrepreneurs on starting and running their own businesses.

The workshop, while limited in scope, is the latest sign of US policy the Biden administration says is intended to support the Cuban people and the private sector on an island that decades ago was state-led for a Soviet-style planned economy. Ditched capitalism dominated by corporate enterprise. ,

The program follows a decision by the Cuban government in 2021 to lift a ban on private companies imposed shortly after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. More than 7,000 such businesses are open, according to an Economy Ministry list updated on March 23.

Those companies, ranging from restaurants to plumbing businesses, now account for 14% of Cuba’s 4 million workforce, according to Cuba’s Communist Party.

Benjamin Ziff, the top US diplomat in Havana, told Reuters that private enterprise could pick up the slack in an economy facing its biggest challenge since Castro’s revolution.

“Cuba’s state-run economy has traditionally not been distributed, and has distributed even less recently,” Ziff said in an interview. “We want a Cuba that is democratic, free and prosperous. The prosperous part depends heavily on the private sector.”

Such events, however, touch a nerve in Havana, where the US embassy is often portrayed by officials as meddling in an effort to overthrow the government.

“(The United States) is betting that the private sector, as it grows, will become a bloc opposing the revolution,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel said in Cuba recently ahead of the March 26 elections. Was. “And we will not let that happen.”

The Cuban government did not respond to a Reuters request for comment on the program. The previous week’s workshops went on without interference from the Cuban authorities.

The United States, which says it operates “transparently” in Cuba, is not alone in seeking to boost Cuba’s budding private sector.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Sweden’s aid agency organized similar workshops on the island last month with the aim of training entrepreneurs.

Both Russia and China have recently presented their own blueprints for private sector development.

small biz struggle

While Cuba has licensed thousands of small businesses over the past two years, many have struggled to ramp up, according to interviews and reports in state-run media.

Entrepreneurs complain of red tape and challenges ranging from raising capital to finding raw materials in a country that is in short supply of almost everything.

In Cuba’s eastern province of Camagüey, for example, 68% of 181 approved private businesses were not yet producing as of November 2022, according to a report by provincial state-run media outlet Adelante.

Camilo Condis, who attended the US embassy workshop last week, runs a small crew of electricians and said his business faced obstacles both from inside and outside Cuba.

“We need the United States government to try to exempt the private sector from the sanctions that are severely affecting us,” Condis said in an interview.

A Cold War-era US embargo that remains in place complicates the import and export of goods as well as financial and banking transactions with Cuba.

Diplomat Ziff said that the United States was looking for ways to ease the burden of American sanctions on private business, but in a way that would not inadvertently benefit the Cuban government.

“We’re working on it, I don’t know if we’ve fully achieved anything yet, but it’s definitely something we’re trying to do,” he said.

Ziff said that in the meantime, the Cuban government should get out of the way of the private sector.

“The biggest obstacle to doing business in Cuba is the Cuban government,” Ziff said. “Recent reforms for small and medium business in Cuba … are a Band-Aid on a much bigger wound.”

Cuban entrepreneurs attending last week’s workshop preferred to focus on the practical over the political: how to write a business plan, focus on advertising, how to deal with tight resources and rising inflation.

For Brandhorst, a successful businesswoman who has helped many people start their own companies, politics is secondary.

“Every business anywhere in the world faces some sort of restrictions and barriers,” she said. “In entrepreneurship, where there’s a will there’s a way.”

Reporting by Dave Sherwood in Havana; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

Sportskeeda, March 28, 2023

Who is Yariel Rodriguez? Star reliever for Chunichi Dragons set to become second Cuban player to defect since WBC

By Zachary Roberts

Modified Mar 28, 2023 14:35 GMT

Yariel RodrÍguez has broken his contract with the Chunichi Dragons and the Cuban Baseball Federation.

Yariel Rodriguez was a key player for the Cuban team in the World Baseball Classic. While they fell to the United States in the quarterfinals, the Cuban side had an excellent run and they were bouyed by Rodriguez’s lights-out status from the bullpen.

When Cuba returned home after their loss, Ivan Prieto stayed behind. The bullpen catcher became the first player to defect after the WBC. Now, Rodriguez is, too.

Shawn Spradling tweeted:

“Per Francys Romero, following the WBC, Cuban RHP Yariel Rodriguez has broken his contract with the Chunichi Dragons and the Cuban Baseball Federation. Rodriguez arrived in the Dominican Republic this morning, and hopes to sign with an MLB team in the near future.”

While Prieto stayed behind after the team left, Rodriguez’s defecting didn’t come until much later and he fled to the Dominican Republic, one of the biggest baseball countries in the world.

What is defecting in baseball? Cuban star Yariel Rodriguez becomes latest to do it

Defecting refers to when a Cuban player flees their country to play elsewhere illegally. It used to be the only way one could join the MLB. Players like Luis Robert and Jose Abreu had to defect to get to the major leagues.

Ivan Prieto defected and now, so has Rodriguez. The Cuban star has already broken contract with his old team in hopes of landing in the MLB soon.

Translating Cuba, March 29, 2023

The Cuban Baseball Federation Will Demand 10 Million Dollars From Yariel Rodriguez

By 14ymedio, Translator: Regina Anavy

After breaking with the Chunichi Dragons, Yariel Rodríguez is in the Dominican Republic seeking an agreement with the Major Leagues. (Dragons of Chunichi)

14ymedio, Madrid, 29 March 2023 — The reaction of the Cuban sports authorities to Yariel Rodríguez Yordi’s breakup with his Japanese team, Dragones de Chunichi, and the Cuban Baseball Federation itself (FCB) has not been long in coming. The organization will avail itself of a clause in the baseball player’s contract to demand 10 million dollars from the athlete.

In a statement released to the official press, the FCB alleges that its demands are those set forth in the agreement. “The athlete acknowledges and accepts that the fulfillment of this contract begins from the moment he leaves Cuba for Japan and ends on his return to Cuba. He also accepts that in case of breach of the contract on his part without justified cause, at the discretion of the Federation, he may not be hired by any other club or third parties without the express authorization of the Federation,” reads the baseball player’s contract.

According to the FCB, the text also made it clear that “in case of abandonment the FCB will require the figure of 10 million dollars for damages,” and the sports organization will demand the relevant “rights and responsibilities.”

In its statement, the FCB regrets the decision taken by the athlete, who according to journalist Francys Romero is in the Dominican Republic “seeking to be hired by some team from the Major Leagues” of the US. In Romero’s opinion, this “contradicts the efforts made for Yariel to develop in a high-level league like the Japanese one, and from there to support the Cuban national team.”

For the organization, his act “constitutes a serious failure to what was agreed for the period 2023-2024 between the Dragons, the athlete” and the Federation itself, which acted as his representative in the agreement.

Rodríguez was one of the players recognized by the Communist Party after being part of Team Asere, which achieved a fourth place in the World Classic, a great position if one takes into account that something similar has not been achieved for almost 20 years.

Francys Romero, who reported yesterday on the departure of the pitcher, stressed that “he will not be subject to the restrictions of international firms because he has been in international baseball for over 25 years and six seasons.” The reporter also noted that there are several players who have left the FCB after signing for Japanese teams.

“The organizations of the Professional League of Japan know that signing a Cuban through the Federation is always risky,” he continued. Rodríguez was preceded by pitchers Héctor Mendoza and Andy Rodríguez, and outfielders Adolis García and Oscar Colás.

The athlete, originally from Camagüey, was part of the list of the top 10 prospects of the World Baseball Classic, according to Baseball America, so Romero predicts that Rodríguez “will get a multi-year agreement for a figure in the millions,” and that “it would be in the range of 50 million dollars for five or six years.”

The specialized publication Swing Completo has also highlighted that “his talent and conditions could lead him to find an excellent agreement,” so the fine for failing to meet his commitment would not hurt the player.

Translated by Regina Anavy

From the archives

Reuters, July 3, 2014

Cuba opens pipeline of baseball talent to Japan, U.S. left out

By Daniel Trotta, Junko Fujita

HAVANA/TOKYO (Reuters) – Cuba is allowing some of its best baseball players to take their skills to Japan and make good money instead of risking their lives at sea with human traffickers in pursuit of Major League Baseball dreams.

The bright lights of the U.S. big leagues do still draw Cuban prospects to speedboats in order to escape the communist-run island – one player just left the island and six others were excluded from the national team for trying.

But now they have options.

In an attempt to halt defections, Cuba is allowing some of its players to sign overseas contracts while raising the pay of those who stay.

Two of Cuba’s biggest stars have signed officially sanctioned contracts this season with Nippon Professional Baseball teams, and Cuba for the first time is welcoming foreign scouts. South Koreans have also come looking for Cuban talent.

Cuban baseball officials have indicated more signings are likely, though they have not said how many.

“We would like to hire more Cuban players in the future,” said Masao Shimazaki, director for international relations for the Yomiuri Giants. “One reason Cuba has a lot of good players is because Cuba does not have an agreement with MLB yet.”

Cuba once prevented its stars from playing in the United States but now Major League Baseball teams are shut out of the Cuban market only because of the decades-old U.S. economic embargo of the country.

Without the embargo, they would be free to scout and sign players straight out of Cuba as long as they are willing to share the rights to players with the Cuban government, which also takes a 20 percent cut of the contracts plus income tax.

The shakeup in Cuba’s rules comes at a time of unprecedented success for Cuban players, as typified by this year’s sensation, Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox.

After defecting last year, Abreu signed a six-year, $68 million contract and deftly adapted to the big leagues. He is among the league leaders in home runs.

Since 2009, more than 20 defectors have signed MLB contracts worth a combined total of more than $330 million, according to data on

Players in the Cuban league were lucky to make $20 a month until recently. Now the minimum salary is over $40 a month, and veteran players can earn several times that.


Yasiel Puig defected from Cuba on a speedboat at age 21 and soon found himself entangled with Mexico’s notorious Zetas crime organization, which threatened to chop off his arm if it failed to receive the promised $250,000 fee for his passage.

When Puig finally reached U.S. shores in 2012, he was rewarded with a seven-year, $42 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

By contrast, Frederich Cepeda is one of Cuba’s most accomplished players over the past decade. When the Cuban government finally gave Cepeda his chance to find fortune overseas, he was past his prime at age 34 so he signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with Japan’s Yomiuri Giants.

Cepeda was the first to arrive in Japan in April, followed by Yulieski Gourriel, who signed a $900,000 deal with the Yokohama DeNA Baystars in May. Both are veterans who had proven their loyalty to Cuba before being rewarded with the chance to play in Japan.

Cepeda said he long wanted to test himself against better competition but chose to wait for a legal option rather than leave behind his wife and 6-year-old son.

Defectors also give up any hope of playing for Cuba’s national team or returning to play in the Cuban league. They must also wait 8 years before returning as tourists and applying for repatriation.

Even so, the United States will continue to appeal to some players.

“To be frank with you, there will be players who will defect the country because there are many baseball players in Cuba. All of them cannot sign contracts with foreign teams under this new agreement,” Cepeda told Reuters in Tokyo. “So some players will choose to play for MLB. Maybe the number of players who would do that will fall, but I don’t think the number will be zero.”

Nippon Professional Baseball is a clear beneficiary of the Cuban rule changes, signing players who are off limits to Major League teams because of the U.S. embargo.

“That is not our business,” said Shigeru Takada, general manager for the Baystars. “All I am saying is that if Gourriel does well in Japan, more good Cuban players will come to Japan.”


Puig’s ordeal at the hands of the Zetas was first reported in the May edition of Los Angeles Magazine, based on interviews and depositions from a related U.S. court case. The story generated ripples in baseball and some calls for change in U.S. law or Major League rules, but the issue never took hold on Capitol Hill or baseball headquarters.

For those who defect, MLB’s collective bargaining agreement discourages them from going directly to the United States because that would subject the player to the draft, restricting his salary.

So defectors incur more risk by fleeing to a third country in order to become free agents and sign for as much as U.S. teams are willing to pay.

For each star like Puig or Abreu, many more defectors labor unceremoniously in the minor leagues, never to sign the big contract nor return to play in Cuba.

One veteran Cuban player who recently saw a 21-fold increase in his monthly pay – to $420 – said he never considered taking the dangerous way out, even when he was making $20 a month.

“Leaving illegally could cost you your life, although you could become a millionaire,” said Carlos Tabares of the Havana team, the Industriales. “In the end you are just merchandise. You can’t play with the Mafia.”

Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta in Havana and Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Kieran Murray