Treasury says Cuba can't send players to Classic

Updated: December 15, 2005, 5:53 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The U.S. government is shutting Cuba out of the inaugural World Baseball Classic, citing the standing embargo against the communist island nation.

The Treasury Department told Major League Baseball of its decision Wednesday, said Pat Courtney, a spokesman for the commissioner's office. The department's Office of Foreign Assets Control confirmed the announcement.

The sport's first World Cup-style tournament, originally to include 16 teams, was jointly organized by the commissioner's office and the players' union. It runs from March 3-20 in the United States, Puerto Rico and Japan.

Organizers will work to have the decision reversed, said Paul Archey, the senior vice president of Major League Baseball International, and Gene Orza, the chief operating officer of the Major League Baseball Players Association.

A permit from OFAC is necessary because of U.S. laws governing certain commercial transactions with the Fidel Castro-controlled nation.

"We are very disappointed with the government's decision to deny the participation of a team from Cuba in the World Baseball Classic," Archey and Orza said. "We will continue to work within appropriate channels in an attempt to address the government's concerns and will not announce a replacement unless and until that effort fails."

In Havana, government officials had yet to react to the decision Thursday, but Cubans on the street were outraged not only because they felt it was unfair, but because it meant they won't be able to see their players go up against the American major league stars.

"Enough already!" said Antonio Mayeta, whose brother is a baseball player in Cuba. "It's unbelievable. This is about sports, not politics. In Cuba, baseball is our culture. Everyone was so anxious to see these games."

Said Victor Renglon, sitting on a park bench in central Havana: "Everyone from Fidel to little boys are born with a bat in their hands."

Organizers had said the Cuban team likely would have included only players currently residing in Cuba and not defectors such as Jose Contreras, Orlando Hernandez and Livan Hernandez, who have become major league stars.

In the tournament schedule announced last week, Cuba was to play its three first-round games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, facing Panama on March 7, the Netherlands on March 9 and Puerto Rico the following day. If the Cubans advanced, they would also have played their second-round games in Puerto Rico.

"It is our policy that we do not confirm, deny or discuss licenses," Treasury spokeswoman Molly Millerwise said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "Generally speaking, the Cuba embargo prohibits entering into contracts in which Cuba or Cuban nationals have an interest."

Rep. Jose Serrano, a New York Democrat, said Tuesday that he is circulating letters to be sent to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Treasury Secretary John Snow asking that Cuba be allowed to play.

"Let's leave the politics out of this," Serrano said in a statement. "The World Baseball Classic should not be tainted by our grudge against Cuba's government. Cuba produces some of the finest baseball talent in the world and they deserve to participate."

At last week's news conference in Dallas announcing tournament plans, Orza sounded unconcerned about OFAC granting a permit.

"I do not think that is a serious impediment," Orza said, adding he was "very, very confident that the Cubans will play."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press