Baseball and Cuban Relations?

When elected in 2008, President Barack Obama claimed that he would heal our relationship with Cuba – which has been waning since the Castro regime took over in 1959. Since agreeing to establish ties with the island nation in December of 2014 many US businesses have decided to take advantage. Airlines are planning flights and businesses are looking to start trading with Cuba. But something historical in sports is the new relationship with Cuba may actually be good for baseball.

The Tampa Bay Rays travelled to Havana to play the Cuban national team on March 22. This game marked the first time a Major League team played a game in Cuba since 1999, and sparked a large political conversation. The game was attended by Commissioner Rob Manfred, the First Family, and multiple CEO’s.  Visits from President Obama are the main strike of controversy.

Obama’s first trip to Cuba marks the first time a US president has been to the island nation since 1928. His visit sparked a large amount of protests both in the US and in Cuba. Many Cuban-Americans met in Little Havana, Miami in order to protest Obama meeting Cuban President Raul Castro in Cuba. Many were upset, citing arrests they or their parents had when protesting in Cuba before moving to the United States. Outraged that Obama would seek out an alliance with the communist regime, they protested about the continued violation of human rights. President Obama has said he would take these into consideration when dealing with Cuba, going as far as to say he would not visit Cuba until things have improved. But have they?

Before Obama landed in Havana, a group of fifty protesters from the organization the Ladies in White were arrested. Every Sunday the group marches after church, demanding improvement of human rights. They are used to getting arrested, as often many of them will be detained for hours or days at a time. But seeing as the president of the United States was going to visit they expected authorities to back off, which didn’t happen. Instead they were arrested and detained with force in front of international press. This prompts some questions: how much does Cuba actually respect the rights of its citizens? Have they actually improved under Raul Castro as opposed to when his brother was in power?

Obama has issued several statements in the past saying he would not call Cuba an ally until its government establishes better human rights for its citizens. So did he go prematurely? Many Cuban citizens say authorities had no right to arrest the Ladies in White because of Obama’s visit. Others will say the opposite is true, saying it would be embarrassing if protesters ran the street when Obama and the First Family landed. The president isn’t the only one facing controversy for the visit.

The relationship between the United States and Cuba is still edgy. All the way up to Congress, people are questioning whether now is a good time for the president to visit and if Cuba is a good place for American baseball right now. Things may simmer if we try to let things ease in, and maybe Cuban players will continue to have an impact on the game of baseball, and maybe baseball will be a good way to ease tension. But only time will tell.

The Rays won in Havana 4-1.

 

By GARRETT EICHER / Staff Writer

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