US backtracks on Cuba baseball deal over Venezuela ties

The US has cancelled an agreement that allowed Cuban baseball stars to sign with American teams.

The deal meant players no longer had to defect from the communist nation to join Major League Baseball teams.

Signed in December, it enabled players to reach the US without resorting to human traffickers.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the decision to withdraw was part efforts to pressure Cuba over its support of Venezuelan President Maduro.

The policy backtrack has been criticised on social media by Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who called it “a cynical, cruel and gratuitous act”.

Negotiations over the deal began under President Barack Obama to ease relations with Cuba, a country which traditionally produces some of the world’s best players.

As part of the deal, Cuban baseball players over age 25 who played in Cuban leagues for six years were free to leave and sign with MLB teams.

The Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) had recently given permission for its first group of athletes to begin playing in the US this year.

A state department official, however, told the BBC that “based on additional information that has come to light”, the US now considers the FCB as part of Cuba’s government. As such, it is subject to ongoing embargoes.

Last Friday, the US Treasury sent MLB a letter – seen by the BBC – saying payments to the FCB were now considered “payments to the Cuban government.”