Cuba Celebrates Historic Agreement With Major League Baseball

(Bloomberg) -- Cuba celebrated a game changing agreement with Major League Baseball that will give Cuban baseball players a legal path to sign with teams in the U.S.

“It’s a historic day,” Cuba’s ambassador to the U.S., Jose Ramon Cabanas, said in a post on his Twitter account, adding that the agreement showed the two countries could reach “meaningful deals” when they “negotiate as equals with respect.”

The Cuban Baseball Federation, or FCB, will become the fourth foreign professional baseball league to enter into a similar agreement, joining Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, the Korea Baseball Organization and the Chinese Professional Baseball League, Major League Baseball said in an emailed statement. The FCB will be paid a release fee by any Major League Club that signs a Cuban player under the terms of the new agreement.

“The objective of the agreement, which is the product of years of negotiations with the FCB, is to end the dangerous trafficking of Cuban players who desire to play professional baseball in the United States, a practice that has been documented in legal proceedings and media reports, and which has caused significant hardship to Cuban players and their families,” MLB said in the statement.

Traditionally, elite Cuban players looking to sign with Major League Baseball teams had to first defect from Cuba and find their way to U.S. soil, and that path was often dangerous.

Cleveland Indians outfielder Leonys Martin was kidnapped in Mexico on his way to the U.S. Chicago White Sox All-Star Jose Abreu tore up his fake passport and ate it on his flight to the United States. Other players have similar stories.

“Knowing that the next generation of Cuban baseball players will not endure the unimaginable fate of past Cuban players is the realization of an impossible dream for all of us,” Abreu said in the MLB statement. “Dealing with the exploitation of smugglers and unscrupulous agencies will finally come to an end for the Cuban baseball player.”

Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s ambassador to Canada, praised the deal and said it served as recognition of the country’s excellence in the sport promoted by its former leader Fidel Castro.

“Finally we’ll have good baseball without human trafficking,” she wrote in a post on her Twitter account.

Praise also came stateside.

@MLB ‘s deal with the Cuban Baseball Federation is a huge win for Cuban baseball players, their families and fans in both countries,” Carlos Gutierrez, the former Kellogg Co. chief executive who served as Commerce secretary under President George W. Bush, tweeted from his account where he identifies himself as a “proud American of Cuban heritage.”

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