Cuba will let athletes sign with foreign leagues

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Friday’s announcement is part of a trend toward relaxing that stance under Castro’s brother, who became president in 2006.

Earlier this year, Cuba ended a five-decade ban on professional boxing, joining an international semipro league where fighters compete for sponsored teams and earn $1,000 to $3,000 a month.

Still, the biggest obstacle to, say, Tomas’ likeness showing up on a bobblehead doll in a major league park someday may lie not in Cuba, but in the U.S.

Granma reported that Cuban athletes will have to pay taxes on any earnings from foreign clubs, an apparent conflict with the 51-year-old American embargo that outlaws nearly all U.S. transactions with Cuba unless they are specifically licensed by Washington.

The economic retrictions were imposed after Cuba nationalized American businesses and aligned itself with the Soviet Union. They have been kept in place to try to pressure the authoritarian country to allow its people more freedom.

“Our policy has not changed. Cuban players need to be unblocked by a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control in order to play for the MLB,” said John Sullivan, spokesman for the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. “In order to qualify, the players must prove that they have permanent residency outside of Cuba.”

Even if Cubans have trouble playing in the U.S., they might still be able to take the field in Mexico, Japan, Venezuela or other countries during their offseason, something that has happened before in a few instances.

Also Friday, Granma announced raises for island athletes, including bonuses for individual and team achievement. For example, in baseball, league leaders in hitting and other categories will get an extra $41. The team that wins the title will split $2,700.

That’s small change by big-league standards, but sizeable in Cuba.

“The pay raise is going to be a big help. It was time,” Tomas said. “I think if we’d done it even earlier, some athletes would not have left.”

• Associated Press writer Luis Alonso Lugo in Washington contributed to this report.

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