Many libertarians worry that President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton has taken on the role that Dick Cheney held during the George W. Bush administration. Mr. Cheney was seen as the “real” president when it came to foreign policy. Mr. Bolton has become Mr. Trump’s Cheney.
Liberty-minded Americans agree with the rhetoric of Mr. Trump that we need better relations with Russia and to end the war in Afghanistan, while staying out of civil wars like the one in Syria. Somehow, Mr. Bolton has undermined Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and has slow-walked the president’s stated goal of dialing back America being everywhere all the time.
One area one would think that Mr. Bolton could do no harm is with our national pastime — Major League Baseball (MLB). Mr. Bolton recently ended a Trump administration agreement that allowed Cuban baseball players safe passage to the United States to play in Major League Baseball. This act by the Trump administration will result in Cuba’s most talented baseball players seeking out human smugglers to play professional baseball in the United States. A December agreement between Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association and the Cuban Baseball Federation had allowed Cuban players to avoid hardship when coming to play in the United States.
The agreement had the stamp of approval from the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the U.S. Treasury Department and was similar to agreements with other baseball organizations in other nations. Andrew Zimbalist wrote in Forbes on April 11, 2019, “MLB and the [Cuban Baseball Federation] reached an agreement that was similar to the agreements that MLB has with baseball organizations in Japan, South Korea, China and Mexico. In addition, the new system would have allowed Cuban players to live in or visit Cuba and would have promoted the integration of Cuban players into the major leagues. It also would have provided for MLB scouts to travel to Cuba to identify promising players, avoiding the situation where a Cuban player defects but is then not signed to a professional contract and is stuck in a third country without employment and unable to return home.”
Seems reasonable, yet Mr. Bolton has falsely claimed that the Major League Baseball agreement somehow helped to prop up the regime in Venezuela.
As we have learned through experience, sanctions against Cuba don’t work. The U.S. government recognized this fact when it carved out big U.S.-based companies from existing sanctions regimes. U.S. airlines, financial institutions and telecommunications companies have been allowed to avoid the Cuban embargo and have provided $100 million directly to the Cuban government over the past few years. By contrast, the MLB deal was with a Cuban-based baseball organization. The MLB-specific sanctions are a high-profile publicity stunt and not based in any real policy outcome.
Before the agreement, Cuban baseball players who wanted to come to play Major League Baseball were moved by criminal organizations. Players paid large sums of money to human traffickers to get themselves and family members out, resulting in a dangerous trip out of the country. Many who left family members behind had them threatened by the government and criminal human trafficking enterprises attempting to extort money. Once the players left, they could not go back to Cuba.
Cubans who have worked their whole lives to become good enough to play in the world’s most competitive baseball league in the United States had their dreams dashed because of politics.
Mr. Zimbalist pointed to the “23 Cuban-born players on major league team rosters and another 108 on minor league teams” including “Jose Abreu, Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes, Aroldis Chapman, Leonys Martin and Yuli Gurriel” who all had to sneak out of Cuba. Those Cuban athletes recognize that the agreement reached in December was a good one for the players and removed the dangerous actions taken by traffickers seeking to get a cut of the MLB contracts. Chicago Magazine reported in 2015 that Mr. Abreu “left in the middle of the night, entrusting (his) fate to a tiny boat, its two motors, and the ink-black sea.” He was at sea for 12 hours with others escaping Cuba “through darkness, then dawn, then scorching daylight. Through 15-foot waves. And through the paths of trawlers and other ships that could cut their own 20-foot vessel in two.” Mr. Bolton’s actions will send the next MLB Cuban superstars on the same dangerous trip.
The idea of freedom is defined by the ability of citizens to live without government interference. Athletes who want to escape a totalitarian society to come to a free society should be welcomed with open arms, yet they are being prevented from coming to America to play a professional sport because of one man. America was founded on the idea of merit-based advancement and freedom from tyranny, Mr. Bolton’s actions to punish baseball fans and Cuban nationals flies in the face of liberty.
• Ron Paul, a former congressman for Texas, is host of the Ron Paul Liberty Report and Chairman of Campaign for Liberty.