Nearly a year after President Obama announced normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, MLB is currently on a goodwill tour of the Communist island nation featuring players who defected such as Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Alexei Ramirez and Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox and newly minted St. Louis Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena.
This isn’t the first time MLB has visited Cuba. Back in 1999, the Baltimore Orioles travelled to Cuba to play spring training games against the Cuban National Team while the Cuban National Team reciprocated by visiting this country to play the O’s.
But what is significant about this tour is that the Cuban defectors were considered persona non grata by the Castro regime. Baseball is and always has been a huge in Cuba and its elite players are national heroes. But when they defected it was as if they didn’t exist. The fact the Castro regime is publicly welcoming them back is more than noteworthy.
Say what you will about Obama and Castro normalizing diplomatic ties. No Republican presidential candidate has spoken about undoing it including both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Both men, of course, are of Cuban heritage.
Yet let us be under illusions. Cuba hasn’t changed that much. Less than a week ago, Cuban authorities arrested 100 human rights activists on UN Human Rights Day for organizing “unauthorized demonstrations” charged with “disturbing the public order.” There were also arrests of dissidents prior to Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba last September.
In an interview with Yahoo earlier this week, President Obama indicated that he would like to visit Cuba in 2016 but would only do so if he could meet dissidents. “If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody,” Obama said. “I’ve made very clear in my conversations directly with President [Raul] Castro that we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba.”
Well, Obama is not known for sticking to his red lines. But if Obama does travel to Cuba next year and meets with dissidents such as The Ladies in White then that would be a positive step. In which case, should Obama announce this trip then we must hold his feet to the fire to ensure he makes that step.
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