Cuba will compete in the 2017 WBC with players from its National Series teams. Photo: Ricardo López Hevia

Why doesn’t the island’s national team include Cubans playing in the United States' Major League Baseball, many of whom have brilliant careers?

Fans have pointed out that the team would be invincible if it included such players alongside the very best from our national series. They are right, of course, as the quality of Cuban baseball is indisputable.
There have however, been a series of responses to this question. One of these came on February 3, 2015, during the Caribbean Series, held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in an article by DPA, which reported that Major League Baseball (MLB) had eliminated the requirement stipulating that Cuban players obtain permission from the U.S. government before signing with a Major League team.

The article went on to note that players would only be required to sign a document swearing that they live outside the Island, and are not members of the Cuban government or Communist Party, and will not return to their country.

Players were basically expected to give up their citizenship.

The issue reemerged on December 15, 2015, in the context of the good-will visit to the island by a MLB delegation which included senior managers and group of star players, such as Cubans José “Pito” Abreu, Yasiel Puig, Alexei Ramírez and Brayan Peña.

Speaking at Cuba’s Hotel Nacional, MLB representatives noted that the organization aims to promote and facilitate the transfer of players residing in Cuba to United States baseball leagues.

At that time, Granma asked Dan Halem, MLB vice president and general counsel, how the statement fit with the requirement for Cuban players to declare that they live outside of Cuba, reported on February 3, 2015?
Halem noted that the objective of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and the MLB Players Association is to have a safe and legal system to facilitate the normal flow of players between Cuba and the United States. He went on to highlight that negotiations will take place in accordance with both countries’ laws, but that cooperation from the two governments was also needed.

Later, on March 21, in Havana’s Meliá Cohiba Hotel, we posed the same question to Manfred, who was accompanied by Halem at the time; both in Havana for the game between Cuba and Tampa Bay which took place during President Barack Obama’s visit to the island.

Manfred stated that the organization is working on the issue, which he also described as tricky, noting the MLB’s desire to establish a normal relationship with the island and a safe route for the regular flow of Cuban players to the United States.
At that time Higinio Vélez, President of the Cuban Baseball Federation, stated, “We don’t want our players to receive differential treatment, we don’t want privileges. We are taking steps jointly to establish this kind of relationship, but without Cuban players having to abandon the country, that is to say, give up their Cuban citizenship.”

The topic reappeared in regards to regulations for the 2017 World Baseball Classic (WBC), taking place March 6-22. In the section entitled “A player’s eligibility,” requirements number two and three state that the player must be “a citizen of the nation the team represents,” and “a permanent legal resident of the nation or territory the team represents,” as proven by the applicable documentation for the World Baseball Classic Inc (WBCI) and the World Baseball and Softball Confederation (WBSC).

Neither of these two stipulations addresses the MLB requirement of a sworn declaration by players stating that they live outside Cuba. And even through other requirements, such as being born in the country of the participating team, would make it possible for Cuban Major League players to play for their nation, how in reality can they, if the document cited by DPA, in 2015, demands that they renounce their citizenship in full? How can they train with their compatriots in Cuban stadiums?

Just as it has in the three previous editions of the WBC, Cuba is participating this year with players from its national championship teams. Meanwhile, as Higinio Vélez himself stated, negotiations with the MBL continue. However, just like all relations regarding Cuba and the United States, talks must be conducted under the principles of equality, respect, and the right to coexistence despite differences.

Reaching a contractual agreement which enables Cubans to play baseball in the United States without renouncing their country and people, and to represent their nation in international competitions and national tournaments, as long as schedules don’t clash, would be a genuine contribution to efforts to normalize relations and a indisputable demonstration of good will, a fundamental principle of global sports.