The same week one of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) heroes was shot in a coordinated assassination attempt, Donald Trump met with Commissioner Rob Manfred to discuss softening the White House’s stance on the rules governing Cuban baseball players in exchange for Cuba assisting the administration in dealing with Venezuela.
Previously, the administration had toughened their position on whether or not Cuban players could join MLB teams without defecting because Cuba was demanding those players turn over a portion of their signing bonuses and salaries to the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB), an organization many believe is simply an offshoot of the Castro government.
Now, NPR reports, the White House is willing to revisit those negotiations but Cuba must change its behavior and must also agree to work with the U.S. on Venezuela.
Trump met Monday with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to discuss the league’s concerns that Cuban ballplayers risk their lives hiring human smugglers to get them to the United States to play. The White House told NPR on Tuesday that it was willing to continue to talk with MLB about the issue, but administration officials also sought MLB’s assistance with the crisis in Venezuela.
“The administration will continue to hold the Cuban regime accountable for its direct role in the trafficking of its citizens from the island,” a White House official told NPR. “The administration looks forward to finding productive ways to work with MLB to help the people of Venezuela, a country that has a rich history with MLB but has been destabilized by Cuba’s interference.”
The Trump administration has vocally condemned Cuba’s role in the propping up of the socialist Maduro regime in Venezuela. Trump’s willingness to meet with Manfred is being touted by the administration as a sign that Trump is not rigid in his rejection of offers made by Cuba to negotiate matters affecting both nations.
However, some are not optimistic due to the fact that Venezuela has been made part of the negotiations.
John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said the meeting is particularly significant from the Cuban perspective. It marks a “meaningful change from 60 days ago” when the Trump administration was in lockstep with some of the Cuban government’s harshest critics, such as Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who vowed to fight the plan.
But Kavulich and other experts said Cuba would not turn on its longtime ally Venezuela for the MLB deal — and the expectation could make the challenge even greater.
“They’ve added elements to the resolution process, and the elements they’ve added are incredibly difficult for MLB or governments to resolve in the short to medium term,” Kavulich said. “Anytime that an issue gets linked to what is happening to Venezuela or how Cuba is connected to Venezuela, turn off the lights, and read a good book.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was recorded last week saying he believes Maduro is “surrounded by Cubans.” Given the administration’s tendency to use every bargaining chip they have at their disposal to affect negotiations and try to enact their agenda — and given the long list of Cuban nationals who play American baseball — it was only a matter of time before MLB was brought to the table.