The Trump administration has canceled an Obama-era deal with the Cuban government which would have allowed Cuban players to play in Major League Baseball without having to defect from their oppressive island nation.
The deal with Cuban was tendered by the Obama Administration and solidified only last year. The agreement with Cuba’s Baseball Federation was part of the Obama administration’s attempt to thaw relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
But now the deal is being canceled. One official told NBC News, “that agreement will not be able to proceed in its current form.”
Another U.S. official added, “Major League Baseball has been informed of the dangers of dealing with Cuba.”
The deal had come under fire by opponents of Cuba’s brutal communist dictatorship, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
One sticking point over the deal was that the Obama administration arbitrarily ruled that the Cuban Baseball Federation was somehow an independent organization and not run by the Cuban government. But the Trump administration insisted that the Cuban sports organization is clearly “an entity of the Cuban government.”
Former Obama official Ben Rhodes lashed out at the Trump administration’s decision saying the move is “cruel and serves no purpose,” adding that it is a “humanitarian issue” to allow Cuban players to play in the MLB.
But a Trump official countered that the Obama deal set up the human trafficking of Cuban baseball players for the benefit of the Cuban government.
“One way or another, it’s human trafficking,” the U.S. official told NBC.
National Security Adviser John Bolton also slammed the Obama-brokered deal as an excuse to paper over human trafficking as did Sen. Rubio, the latter of whom said the deal is, “legalized trafficking of persons” where Cuba lets baseball players come to America only “if MLB pays them a ransom.”
For its part, the Cuban Baseball Federation slammed the Trump administration and said, “Attacks with political motivation against the agreement achieved harm the athletes, their families, and the fans.”
Finally, a letter from the Treasury Department criticized MLB’s agreement to pay Cuba for players and noted that “A payment to the Cuban Baseball Federation is a payment to the Cuban government.”
The thrust of the government's argument, as laid out in a letter from Treasury Dept. to MLB obtained by ESPN: "A payment to the Cuban Baseball Federation is a payment to the Cuban government." U.S. government sees the CBF as an arm of the Cuban government. Deal nixed accordingly. pic.twitter.com/oQhtn2R9gw
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) April 8, 2019
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.