The World Baseball Classic (WBC) lives today! Much credit should go to the diplomatic skills of Paul Archey- the Senior VP of Major League Baseball International (MLBI), Gene Orza- the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) Chief, and Antonio Munoz- Promoter of the San Juan portion of the WBC. A whole lotta pressure from the rest of the world didn’t hurt either. Early Friday, the U.S. government finally agreed to issue Cuba a permit to play ball.
The original effort to stop Cuba from playing in the WBC sprung from the Cuban-American community in Miami shortly after the Classic’s conception. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (U.S. Rep. to Florida) has been the leader in the fight to exclude Cuba. Over the last several months it has been his top priority. In the end though Balart could not change the will of the world. Upon hearing the news, Balart, a Cuban-American, called the decision "lamentable and unfortunate". He also said that the Cuban National Team should defect once they get to Puerto Rico. "I hope that the Cuban players will use this opportunity to escape totalitarianism and reach freedom in the U.S."
In early December, political pressure from the Miami-Cuban dissident community caused the U.S. Treasury Department’s, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to reject Cuba’s permit to play in the U.S. where much of the WBC is to be hosted. With Florida governor Jeb Bush as a direct ear to the President, Balart was able to raise a major ruckas that turned into an international war of words. In late December, Puerto Rico requested that San Juan be removed as a host site in protest of Cuba’s exclusion. Then Castro began baiting the U.S. government by questioning their machismo, saying that America was scared to play Cuba. Venezuela jumped aboard with harsh criticism of its own, and in early January the International Baseball Federation (IBF) refused to sanction the tournament if Cuba was excluded. Cuba turned up the heat another notch when they agreed to honor the laws of the U.S. embargo, imposed on them over 40 years ago, by donating any proceeds they earned from the Classic to the victims from Hurricane Katrina.
Throughout this whole conflict Major League Baseball (MLB) has had to walk a tight rope. Already suffering from the wrath of the U.S. Congress over their steroid policy, MLB’s new political pickle threatened to turn into an even bigger public relations nightmare. The Cuban permit flap brought MLB into the crossfire in the never-ending battle between Fidel Castro and the U.S. government. With the WBC a little over a month away and a displeasured chorus bellowing throughout the international media, MLB has had to work quickly. Shortly after the first permit was denied, Paul Archey and Gene Orza logically and quietly maneuvered behind the scenes with Antonio Munoz and other Latin-American businessmen and leaders on a final agreement with Cuba. MLB then submitted a new application to the OFAC in late December trying to allay the U.S. government’s concerns about Cuba spying and/or breaking the rules of the U.S embargo. Orza and Archey spent the next three weeks playing peacemakers as the political tension boiled. In a sign that an agreement was close, Archey and an MLBPA lawyer flew to Cuba this week to discuss logistics and clarify legal issues. The diplomacy paid off and helped avert what could have turned into a political disaster.
Though Cuba is in and the WBC will be a lot more competitive now, there
are repercussions—World trust in the U.S. continues to drop. This
week International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques
Rogge said any future U.S. bids to host the Olympics would have to
ensure that a situation like this would not occur again.
So, Cuba’s in, the world wins and baseball fans can look forward to what hopefully will be the best world baseball tournament ever. Now pitching for the Cuban National Team:
Read my previous articles on this subject
Pedro Luis Lazo