President Trump has resumed talks with Major League Baseball owners after his administration blocked a historic agreement that would have allowed Cuban baseball players to join MLB teams without having to defect.
But the White House made clear that in exchange for revisiting that decision, it wants MLB, like other groups with ties to the island, to urge Cuba to reduce its long-standing cooperation with Venezuela's socialist government.
Trump met Monday with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to discuss the league's concerns that Cuban ballplayers risk their lives hiring human smugglers to get them to the United States to play. The White House told NPR on Tuesday that it was willing to continue to talk with MLB about the issue, but administration officials also sought MLB's assistance with the crisis in Venezuela.
"The administration will continue to hold the Cuban regime accountable for its direct role in the trafficking of its citizens from the island," a White House official told NPR. "The administration looks forward to finding productive ways to work with MLB to help the people of Venezuela, a country that has a rich history with MLB but has been destabilized by Cuba's interference."
The Trump administration blames Cuba for propping up Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro and demanded that Cuban security forces leave Venezuela.
MLB had reached an agreement in December with the Cuban Baseball Federation that would have allowed Cuban baseball players to sign contracts directly with professional U.S. baseball clubs.
Four months later, the Treasury Department told MLB that it was reversing an Obama-era decision that would have allowed payments to the Cuban Baseball Federation, accusing the Cuban government of using baseball players as "pawns." The Trump administration argued the agreement was prohibited because payments can't be made to the Cuban government owing to long-standing U.S. sanctions.