U.S. Embargo Could Screw Cuba's International Baseball Plans

PHOTO: Vladimir Garcia pitches against the Netherlands during the second round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic at the Tokyo Dome on March 11, 2013 in Tokyo, Japan.Photo by Yuki Taguchi/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty Images
Vladimir Garcia pitches against the Netherlands during the second round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic at the Tokyo Dome on March 11, 2013 in Tokyo, Japan.

Just two months ago, baseball fans in Latin America celebrated Cuba's announcement that it would return to the Caribbean Series, an annual competition between the league champions of Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

Back in 1949, Cuba was one of the founders of this highly respected tournament. Teams from the island won seven of the first 12 editions. But the baseball-crazy country withdrew from the series in 1961, when Fidel Castro banned professional sports.

It is not surprising then, that officials described Cuba's plans to return to this contest --known in Spanish as La Serie del Caribe-- as a "historic" move.

But it turns out that U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba could stop teams from this island from returning to the tournament, at least for one more year.

On Tuesday, Dominican newspaper Diario Libre reportedly got its hands on a letter sent by Kim Ng, Major League Baseball's Vice President for Operations, to Juan Puello, the officer in charge of organizing the Caribbean series.

In the document – whose existence has been confirmed by the AP -- Ng tells Puello to drop Cuba from the 2014 Serie del Caribe, which will be held in Venezuela next February.

According to Diario Libre, Ng argues in the letter that U.S. laws that regulate business with Cuba bar MLB-paid ballplayers from competing with Cuban athletes, unless several "bureaucratic hurdles" are overcome.

Most ballplayers in the leagues of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela already have MLB contracts -- even if they play for farm teams in the states -- so it would be practically impossible to have a Serie del Caribe without them.

MLB officers have refused to reveal the contents of the letter, but they did tell the AP that the organization would need "authorization" from the U.S government for its players to participate in the tournament, if Cuba were to take part.

Diario Libre claims that the MLB told Caribbean officials that it could not work around American economic sanctions on Cuba by the time the next Caribbean Series begins in February.

The Caribbean Baseball Confederation, which is in charge of organizing La Serie del Caribe, confirmed Tuesday evening that it had met with MLB representatives in New York to discuss the Cuba situation.

Its president, Juan Puello, told the AP that both sides are working on renewing an agreement that allows players with MLB contracts to participate in Caribbean leagues next winter. However, he did not specify if any agreements had been reached about Cuba's participation in the next Serie del Caribe.