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Treasury says Cuba can't send players to Classic

12/15/2005 - MLB

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."