Policy Summary

The Trump administration imposed new sanctions on Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua  in April, using the language of the Cold War. The most severe regulations were focused on relations with Cuba. U.S. citizens will now be permitted to sue any entity or person “trafficking” in property from U.S. citizens after the 1959 revolution. The three Presidents before Trump had suspended this legal option, as it would interfere with trade and national security. The amount of money that Cuban Americans can send to relatives on the Caribbean island will also be limited by the Trump administration, and there will be new restrictions on travel to Cuba for all U.S. citizens. Those actions further reverse President Barack Obama’s attempts to thaw the long-term frozen political relations with Cuba, which Trump has called “terrible and misguided.”

In December of 2014, President Barack Obama attempted to normalize relations with Havana. Major League Baseball negotiations were soon initiated with the Cuban Baseball Federation in order to begin legally transferring Cuban stars to play in the United States. These moves were viewed as a progressive means to deal with the illegal cross-border smuggling of ballplayers. The attempt to normalize Cuban-American relations was strongly opposed by anti-Castro Republicans, including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Cuban-American. Finally on April 2nd of this year, the Cuban Baseball Federation released the first list of players able to sign contracts directly with Major League Baseball organizations. However the progress was soon came to an abrupt stop this month, after the Trump administration ended the deal.


Officials in the Trump administration claimed Cuba’s support for the Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro as their main reason for the change of heart. The day previous to the canceled baseball agreement, John Bolton, the national security adviser, commented about Maduro and Washington’s attempts at trying to oust the dictator. On Twitter Bolton wrote, “America’s national pastime should not enable the Cuban regime’s support for Maduro in Venezuela.” But that is not entirely what this is about.

President Obama’s attempt to end more than five decades of stone walling Cuba was supported by a large portion of Americans, who saw the deal as long overdue. For many, granting certain athletes from Cuba the ability to perform legally in the major leagues was a win for both sides, in a few ways. Players who often attempted dangerous ventures, such as hiring smugglers, could legally and safely pursue their long-strived for careers overseas. Currently, the average salary for players in Cuba is $50 per month. Therefore, many players rationalize the risks of leaving Cuba illegally. To date, more than 350 Cuban ballplayers have defected since the start of 2014Accepting the claim of an “independent” Cuban Baseball Federation was considered a necessary unpleasantry.

The Trump administration did not see it this way. The current administration instead claimed the Cuban federation was not independent of the Cuban government, as the Obama administration had ruled.  Nikole Thomas, the acting assistant director for licensing at the Office of Foreign Assets Control, explained the U.S. government’s reasoning to end the deal, claiming the Cuban federation would receive 25 percent of a player’s signing bonus for a minor league player and between 15 and 25 percent for a major league player.

Yet it can be said that revoking the agreement was a bad choice. There are those that see Cuba’s decision allowing their athletes to work in the U.S. as a step in the right direction, even if some finances may have ended up in the hands of the Cuban government. Although Cuba should be discouraged from supporting the Maduro administration, it seems to have become the excuse for those on the right to indulge in their obsession to continue with the international freeze on relations with Cuba. Sadly, what the Trump administration and Marco Rubio have achieved is to prevent Cuban baseball players to reach their professional aspirations without having to enter into the United States at  great peril and  abandon their right to ever return to their homeland or families on the Caribbean island.

Engagement Resources:

  • Roots of Hope is an international network of students and young professionals working to inspire young people across the globe to think about and proactively support our young counterparts on the island through innovative means.
  • Engage Cuba is a national coalition of private companies, organizations, and local leaders dedicated to advancing federal legislation to lift the 60-year-old Cuba embargo in order to empower the Cuban people and open opportunities for U.S. businesses.
  • The U.S.–Cuba Cooperative Working Group (USCCWG) promotes mutually beneficial engagement between the U.S. and Cuba’s cooperative sectors in an effort to support US cooperative growth and Cuban economic progress that will result from the ongoing success of strong and vibrant cooperatives in both countries.
  • 14Ymedio is the daily digital newspaper founded by human rights activist and Cuban Hero, Yoani Sanchez. They are established in the USA as a non-profit, which can receive donations from US individuals and entities.
  • The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (“FHRC”) is a nonprofit organization established in 1992 to promote a nonviolent transition to a free and democratic Cuba with zero tolerance for human rights violations.

Photo by unsplash-logoJose Morales

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