MLB Breaks Ties with Venezuelan Baseball over US Embargo

All US-based ball players, including Venezuelan nationals, are now barred from playing in Venezuela.

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A number of Venezuelan baseball players based in the US will not be allowed to return to play in the Venezuelan league following a decision by the MLB. (AP)
A number of Venezuelan baseball players based in the US will not be allowed to return to play in the Venezuelan league following a decision by the MLB. (AP)
By Paul Dobson
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Mérida, August 26, 2019 (venezuelanalysis.com) – US Major Leagues Baseball (MLB) has blocked all United States-based players from participating in Venezuela’s professional baseball league.

The move, which was announced last Thursday, will affect players of all nationalities – including Venezuelans – who have contracts in both the US major and minor leagues.

It is expected to seriously disrupt the 2019/20 season of Venezuela’s Winter League, which runs from October 18 to December 31.

According to the US baseball federation, the decision was taken to avoid the risk of sanctions being landed against MLB individuals or organisations on the grounds that the Venezuelan league receives over US $12 million of funding from state-run oil firm PDVSA.

The oil company, which also finances a range of other sporting and cultural activities, has been targeted by a recent executive order prohibiting US or other individuals and entities from “materially assist[ing], sponsor[ing], or provide[ing] financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services” to Venezuelan state entities or associated bodies.

Citing the sanctions, the MLB stated that it will “suspend its involvement in the [Venezuelan] league until it receives direction from the relevant agencies that participation by affiliated players is consistent with the Executive Order.” The federation also stressed that it will “fully adhere to the policies implemented by our government.”

It is unclear whether the measure will also affect US-based trainers and umpires.

The Venezuelan Winter League is a popular breaktime tournament for US minor league players, many of whom earn less than the minimum wage, and US-based Venezuelan players who wish to visit home.

There are 68 Venezuelan players signed up in the MLB this season, more than any other foreign country except the Dominican Republic. Prominent players include future hall of famer Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve, Ronald Acuna Jr, Gleyber Torres and Willson Contreras. While the MLB’s move does not affect their participation in the Major Leagues, the measure has forced the Caribbean Professional Baseball Confederation (CBPC) to “evaluate” Venezuelan players’ status amid fears of reciprocal measures from Caracas.

At the time of writing, there has been no reaction from the Venezuelan League of Professional Baseball (LVBP) nor from the Venezuelan government. However, Reuters has cited unnamed sources claiming meetings between the MLB and the Maduro administration are underway to make the tournament a reality.

The MLB decision has been met with rebuke by baseball organisations in Venezuela and across the region.

“It is a true shame that politics and sport are confused in this way,” said Juan Francisco Herrera, commissioner for the CBPC.

Wilmer Reina, a spokesperson for Venezuela’s Zulia Eagles team, also condemned the move, claiming that it will have a “brutal impact on the league and the quality of the game.”

For its part, the La Guaira Sharks team raised the prospect that the tournament may have to be cancelled.

“Today’s news is that Venezuelan and American players may be banned from playing in the 2019/2020 LVBP tournament. If confirmed, we may be seeing the possible end of the tournament.”

Fans, who are used to seeing their household stars in the tournament, also voiced their discontent.

“The sanctions are not going to topple the government. It’s just we the people that suffer,” baseball fan Jose Martinez told the Wall Street Journal

Earlier this year, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused Washington of meddling in Venezuela’s most popular sport when plans to hold the prestigious Caribbean Series in the country were cancelled at the last minute.

“We have found out that the CBPC, on orders of the Major Leagues and the US government, have stolen the Caribbean Series from us,” he claimed in January.

The MLB has been scaling back its involvement in Venezuela for some years, including withdrawing talent scouts and closing training camps in 2017. At the time, the MLB also warned its teams to “avoid” travelling to the country.

Edited by Lucas Koerner from Philadelphia.