Cuba has announced that its athletes will "be able to sign contracts with foreign professional sports leagues," according to Eva Saiz of EL PAIS. Following the Cuban national baseball tournament, the law "will go into effect in November for baseball players" and on Jan. 1 for all other Cuban athletes. The Cuban government's approved measures "will mean an economic improvement for athletes and coaches." The decision "is looking to decrease the number of defections, especially to the U.S. to play in the MLB." The new law will allow "athletes to sign contracts with foreign leagues as long as they are in Cuba for annual national tournaments." The regulation "is considered one of the most radical economic reforms that the Cuban government has made in recent months." Cuban athletes will "keep their earnings from contracts with foreign leagues as long as they pay taxes on the island and athletes will be guaranteed compensation from the state for accomplishments in national and int'l competitions, in addition to a pension when they conclude their athletic careers." Various Japanese and Mexican baseball leagues "have welcomed the decision, aware that this opening could revolutionize their respective tournaments." Former Cuban Olympic baseball player Omar Linares, "who is now a coach of Mexican Baseball League side Rojos Aguilas de Veracruz," said, "I sincerely believe that this will give a great opportunity to Cuban athletes." What "remains unclear is to what degree Cuban baseball players will be able to join the MLB, taking into account the fact that embargo restrictions limit, among other things, the amount of money that can be transferred to Cuba" (EL PAIS, 9/27).
'VERY BIG IMPACT': In N.Y., Randal Archibold reported the news is "raising the prospect of a flood of new talent around the world," but possibly not much in the U.S. Cuba has long sought to "keep its athletes at home in quasi-amateur leagues, usually prohibiting them from cashing in on multimillion-dollar contracts abroad." The rule change follows a "general loosening of immigration restrictions, even allowing Cubans critical of the government to travel overseas." Analysts said that the move "was devised more to cash in on contracts in Mexico, Japan, South Korea and other countries that have more normal ties with Cuba." In Cuba, "there was a lot of talk that it would expand options for players." Most "live on state wages that pay $20 a month." Cuban baseball writer Sigfredo Barros said that overall the rule change "will have a very big impact, very positive" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/27).
U.S. POLICY NOT CHANGING: U.S. Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control spokesperson John Sullivan said, "Our policy has not changed. Cuban players need to be unblocked by a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control in order to play for the MLB. In order to qualify, the players must prove that they have permanent residency outside of Cuba" (AP, 9/27).