TRUMP ADMINISTRATION TO CUBAN BASEBALL: YOU’RE OUT!

The Trump administration threw a foreign-policy curveball earlier this week by nixing an agreement that would have allowed Cuban baseball players to play for US teams without first fleeing their home country.

Baseball has been played in Cuba almost as long as in the United States, but US sanctions have long forced Cuban ballplayers seeking a shot at the US Big Leagues to either defect while abroad, make dangerous boat journeys across the Florida Straits, or trust human traffickers to smuggle them into the United States via Mexico.

Some of the game's current superstars came to the US that way, risking their lives and abandoning their homeland just for a shot to play at the game's highest level.

An agreement reached in December was supposed to change that. Under the accord, the Cuban baseball federation (FCB) would designate a group of players permitted to sign with Major League clubs each year, on the condition that the federation receive a percentage of the players' US signing bonuses.

Crucially, those players would not – as in the past – have had to cut ties with the island or their families in order to play baseball in the United States.

"It was an agreement that was good for all sides," said Ismael Sene, a former Cuban intelligence officer and widely recognized Cuban baseball historian.

The deal, he told Signal from Havana earlier this week, would have provided talent for Major League ball clubs, secured a safe way for Cuban players to pursue their dreams, and generated money for the cash-strapped Cuban league.

That's where the Trump administration saw a problem. It says that the deal would provide a financial lifeline to the Cuban government, violating existing sanctions.

That reflects a broader change of US policy towards Cuba under Trump. Where the Obama Administration saw engagement as the best way to bring about political change on the island, the Trump administration has tightened the screws on the regime.

That's in part because of the electoral importance of Republican-leaning Cuban emigres in South Florida, who demand a hard line against the Cuban regime.

But there's a broader foreign-policy dimension: Trump's national security adviser John Bolton explained the decision as a move to prevent Cuba from using its baseball players as "pawns" in its "support for Maduro in Venezuela."

The Cuban government is tightly intertwined with the Venezuelan regime of Nicolas Maduro, which Washington – and dozens of other countries – no longer see as legitimate. In short, Bolton views anything that helps the Cuban regime as something that also, indirectly, helps Maduro.

Caught in the crossfire, of course, are the Cuban ballplayers yearning for a shot at stardom and a chance to provide for their families.

In a cruel twist of timing, it was barely a week ago that Cuba announced the names of the first thirty-four players eligible to play in las grandes ligas.

Related Articles Around the Web
    From Your Site Articles

    This Saturday, July 20, will mark the 50-year anniversary of the day a human being first stepped onto another world. A moment born out of Cold War political pressures, it's easy to forget a half century later how much bitter controversy the project provoked at home and the intensity of the worldwide fanfare that followed its success.

    The moon mission's primary purpose was to defeat the Soviet Union. By the time John Kennedy became president in 1961, the Soviet Union had advanced far ahead of the United States in the race for achievement in space. In October 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the world's first satellite. A month later, a dog named Laika became the first living creature to travel beyond Earth's atmosphere. In April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth, the first human to do so.

    In early May, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, spurring Kennedy to announce a far more ambitious plan. On May 25, Kennedy famously pledged that by the end of the decade Americans would go to the moon and return safely to the Earth.

    Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, but new President Lyndon Johnson quickly signaled his intention to see the promise kept. The Soviets held their space lead through 1965, by landing an unmanned craft on the Moon.

    The moon mission stoked controversy in the United States. A review of polls reveals that only in 1969 did a majority of Americans support the project. Many people argued that the billions spent on a moonshot should go toward the war in Vietnam or to fight poverty in America's inner cities. "No hot water, no toilets, no lights. But Whitey's on the moon," sang musician and activist Gil Scott Heron. It didn't help when a fire during the Apollo 1 mission killed three astronauts and destroyed their space module.

    But when Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the moon on July 20, 1969, the event took on a life of its own. It was a decade framed by two images of respected TV anchorman Walter Cronkite—shaken to the core on air by the 1963 murder of President Kennedy and then speechless with awe as Americans bounded across the surface of the moon.

    A decade that included confrontation with the Soviets in Cuba, the assassinations of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, a failing war in Vietnam, race riots in American cities, and violent chaos at the 1968 Democratic Party convention ended with an accomplishment a quarter million miles away, that was watched live by 94 percent of Americans who owned a TV.

    Americans weren't the only ones watching. About 650 million people around the world watched the moon landing live on TV, making the event the first truly global televised event. Nine weeks later, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins began a world tour.

    Concerns that planting an American flag on the moon's surface would seem an act of obnoxious nationalism faded as the three men were greeted by overflow crowds in 27 cities in 24 countries over 39 days. An estimated one million people greeted them in Dhaka (then Pakistan) and some 1.5 million turned out in Mumbai (then Bombay).

    Fifty years later, moon missions are still a mark of national prestige. Russia, China, India, the EU, Japan, and Israel have all sent probes to orbit the Moon or landed vehicles on its surface. But none of them matches that first "giant leap for mankind."

    Next up: Mars? For thoughts on the next space race, click here.

    Bonus fact: An iPhone has more than 100,000 times the processing power of the computer that landed Apollo 11 on the moon.

    #Rickyleaks – A spectacular political crisis has erupted in the US commonwealth of Puerto Rico as tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent days to demand the resignation of Governor Ricardo "Ricky" Rosselló. The trigger for the unrest was the leak of hundreds of text messages in which Rosselló and his associates use homophobic and sexist slurs against a wide variety of public officials and journalists—while joking about the death toll from Hurricane Maria. But this outburst of public fury reflects broader frustrations with mismanagement of post-Maria reconstruction, severe cutbacks in social services in response to a debt crisis, and decades of corrupt and detached politicians in charge of the "Island of Enchantment."

    Ukraine's Elections – Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president two months ago, but the substantive part of his time in office will begin on Sunday, when elections are held for the Rada, Ukraine's parliament. His Servant of the People party, named for the television show that made Zelensky famous, will likely win more votes than any other. We'll be watching to see its margin of victory and what it reveals about the new president's opportunity to transform Ukraine's politics.

    Mexicans' attitudes toward migrants – A new poll from The Washington Post and Mexico's Reforma newspaper finds that more than 60 percent of Mexicans say Central American migrants take jobs and benefits that should go to Mexicans. Nearly as many, 55 percent, support the deportation of migrants back across Mexico's southern border.

    Rhino Bonds – The Zoological Society of London and Conservation Capital are running the sale of a $50 million bond to finance expansion of the endangered black rhino population. It's a test case for creation of a wildlife conservation debt market that could be used to protect species facing extinction.

    What We're Ignoring:

    A manmade Antarctic snowstorm – A report published in the journal Science Advances finds that if we had 12,000 wind turbines to power giant seawater pumps and snow cannons to spray trillions of tons of snow over western Antarctica, we might prevent the collapse of a giant ice sheet that threatens to submerge coastal mega-cities like New York and Shanghai. The study's authors devised this ludicrous proposal as a way to focus people's attention, rather than as a feasible project. But we're ignoring this idea because we don't see the value in another argument that leaves us feeling powerless to deal with an important problem.

    5 million: A hacker has stolen the personal and financial information of as many as five million citizens and foreign residents in Bulgaria, a country of about 7 million people. "The state of your cybersecurity is a parody," announced the hacker in an email. It's certainly starting to look that way.

    5.1: In 2018, the number of US drug overdose deaths fell for the first time since 1999, according to preliminary data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research shows 72,224 overdose deaths in 2017 and 68,557 in 2018, a drop of 5.1 percent.

    700 Billion: China has lent more than $700 billion to other countries. That's more than double the amount loaned by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund combined and makes China "the world's largest official creditor." A new study suggests that half of that sum is hidden from institutional lenders.

    400,000: It took 400,000 people—including engineers, scientists, mechanics, technicians, pilots, divers, seamstresses, secretaries and others—to send Apollo 11 to the moon and to bring Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins safely home. And while the faces we're most familiar are almost entirely white and male, the larger list of those who made it possible is much more diverse.

    This time the field is more crowded with China's growing ambitions throwing US and Russian space dominance into question. Watch the full GZERO World episode: Space Goals and Black Holes