Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Cuba Embargo and MLB

Dara Lind has a fascinating piece at Vox about Major League Baseball, Cuba, and human smuggling, which has gained a lot of attention because of Yasiel Puig's harrowing experience. U.S. immigration law and MLB draft policy have established very particular incentives:

A Cuban player can't negotiate a contract with a major-league team while he's in Cuba, thanks to the embargo — and the Cuban government's tendency to imprison anyone who's a threat to defect. But that doesn't mean he's not allowed to negotiate a contract with a major-league team somewhere else. 
The MLB says that a player who's established residency in a third country (most often Mexico or the Dominican Republic) is allowed to negotiate with any major league team. So instead of working out a contract with only one team, like players who go directly to the US do, a player in a third country is able to put all 30 major-league teams in a bidding war against each other.

So you get out of Cuba, but then get smuggled to another Latin American country to negotiate your MLB contract. The smugglers are increasingly tied to Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations. Once an MLB team finally signs the player, they're directly or indirectly paying criminals.

As it turns out, the problem has a simple solution:

If the US government lifted its embargo with Cuba entirely, it would solve the problem — major league teams would be allowed to sign players who were living in Cuba, thus allowing them to come to the US with a job (and a visa) in hand. That doesn't seem likely to happen anytime soon.

Simple in logic, that is, not politically. But perhaps there is even a way to achieve it within the context of the embargo:

But Rodriques of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime thinks that the US government could actually create a limited exception to the embargo that would apply solely to athletes. It made an exception in the 1980s for artistic and literary materials, so it's not totally unprecedented. If the US did that, it would eliminate the need for the "special license," so it would make the process for Cuban players much more straightforward — and safer.

She doesn't expand on that but I assume she means MLB teams could negotiate directly with players while they're on Cuba. But how would that work unless the Cuban government gave permission (and presumably took its own cut?).


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