The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday threw out a deal between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation that would have allowed Cubans to play in the United States without having to defect.
The ESPN sports news network published a letter from the U.S. Treasury Department to MLB informing the US professional league of the move.
MLB and the Cuban federation announced in December that they had reached a historic agreement that would allow Cuban players to sign with MLB teams.
The signing of Cuban players by MLB involves a payment to the Cuban Baseball Federation, however, and this fueled the objections of the Treasury Department.
"A payment to the Cuban Baseball Federation is a payment to the Cuban government," the Treasury Department said in the letter obtained by ESPN.
U.S. law prohibits transactions with the Cuban government other than some cultural and educational exchanges.
"The U.S. does not support actions that would institutionalize a system by which a Cuban government entity garnishes the wages of hard-working athletes who simply seek to live and compete in a free society," said Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
"The Administration looks forward to working with MLB to identify ways for Cuban players to have the individual freedom to benefit from their talents, and not as property of the Cuban state," Marquis said on Twitter.
The Cuban Baseball Federation condemned the decision.
"The agreement with MLB seeks to stop the trafficking of human beings, encourage cooperation and raise the level of baseball," @CubanaBeisbol said in a tweet.
"Any contrary idea is false news," it said. "Attacks with political motivation against the agreement achieved harm the athletes, their families and the fans."
The agreement reached in December between MLB and the Cuban Baseball Federation was the culmination of more than three years of negotiations.
Prior to the agreement, Cuban players had been forced to defect, often making deals with shady traffickers to escape Cuba and come play in the United States.
An example of the lengths Cuban players will go to reach MLB is Cincinnati Reds outfielder Yasiel Puig, who after multiple failed defection attempts arranged to be taken to Mexico by a drug cartel that kept him hostage until it was paid $250,000 for his release.
"For years, Major League Baseball has been seeking to end the trafficking of baseball players from Cuba by criminal organizations," MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said at the time.
"We believe this agreement accomplishes that objective and will allow the next generation of Cuban players to pursue their dream without enduring many of the hardships experienced by current and former Cuban players who have played Major League Baseball," Manfred added.
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