This past weekend, President Obama made a historic visit to the Caribbean island of Cuba. This trip was the first time a sitting American president has made a visit to the island in 88 years; the last visit was by President Calvin Coolidge in January of 1928. This trip ended with the President and his family enjoying a game of America’s favorite pastime, baseball. This exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team was a friendly match, and the recognition of a mutual affinity for the sport from both sides.
The game was hosted in Havana’s historic Estadio Latinoamericano, and also coincides with major conversations about Cuban athletes joining our country’s Major League Baseball. For a Cuban baseball player to attempt to joining the MLB, he must defect from Cuba, and leave behind his country, and his allegiance. As easy as it may seem to leave the island, it get’s more complicated, because, in most cases, these men are leaving behind their families to seek a better future.
Once a baseball player reaches the U.S., the process becomes legally intricate. Before a Cuban defector can do business with an American company, like the MLB, he must first establish residency outside of Cuba and the United States. This process can take up to several months, depending on the country. The athletes must also petition for free agency from the MLB, and be unblocked from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) before finalizing any contract with a MLB club.
The process is now easier, because amendments made to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) and Export Administration Regulations (EAR) have loosened the salary restrictions of the past. The OFAC and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) have now authorized U.S. companies “engage in transactions related to the sponsorship or hiring of Cuban nationals to work or perform in the United States similar to nationals from other countries, provided that no additional payments are made to the Cuban government in connection with such sponsorship or hiring.” These amendments will now ease the pursuit of the American dream for Cuban athletes.
The historic game ended in a victory for the Tampa Bay Rays, but in the grand scheme of things, this match was a victory in the diplomatic relationship between Cuba and U.S.