Unfortunately, cash, smugglers rule
BY HELEN AGUIRRE FERRÉ HAGUIRREFERRE@GMAIL.COM
09/20/2014 3:00 PM 09/20/2014 7:00 PM
Human trafficking is not new, but smugglers have new clients: Cuban
baseball players. That became clear with revelations about Los Angeles
Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig's flight from Cuba through violent
smugglers who left a trail of death and deceit along the way.
Cuban boxer Yunior Despaigne, who fled with Puig, signed an affidavit
claiming that Gilberto Suarez and others financed Puig's escape to Islas
Mujeres and Mexico for $250,000. Realizing Puig's dollar value to a
Major League Baseball team — there are 30 — the smugglers doubled the
amount to be paid for his release.
Puig was held until the ransom was paid. As it turns out, the smugglers
were working for the notorious Zetas Mexican drug cartel, which
allegedly killed one involved in the plot over a dispute about money.
Is the trip worth the risk?
Baseball is a way of life in Cuba. Cuban baseball players are considered
national icons; every time one defects, it is an embarrassment to the
government. They are leaving to escape poverty and to fulfill a dream of
playing for the MLB. In Cuba, a baseball player lives in poor
conditions. earning between $12 and $16 a month. In the United States,
the minimum salary reported by the MLB in 2013 was $490,000. Some, of
course, earn much more. Puig has a $42-million contract with the
Dodgers; White Sox star Jose Abreu earns $68 million. The difference in
salaries between both countries would be almost comical were it not so sad.
Joe Kehoskie, a baseball agent and president and CEO of Joe Kehoskie
Baseball has represented more than a dozen Cuban defectors. In an
interview for Issues Reports, which I host 11 a.m. Sunday on WPBT2,
Kehoskie says that professional smugglers work with U.S. sports agents
to target and seduce players to leave Cuba. The smugglers/agents get up
to 30 percent of the value of the player's contract in return. He paints
an ugly portrait of a sport that is considered America's pastime.
Facing the embarrassment of the growing number of prominent ball players
who are fleeing the island, the Cuban regime is softening its position
now allowing some to play abroad as long as they return to Cuba to
fulfill their commitments at home. Mexico and Japan have taken
advantage, reportedly signing deals that range from $980,000 to $1.5
million. There are two catches: The Cuban government receive the
players' salaries, and none can play in the United States. It could
become a lucrative business for the communist country that never lets
its workers directly negotiate or be compensated by companies.
The Cuban government has long profited from the human trafficking of its
best talent. That is the perspective of Mauricio Claver-Carone,
executive director of Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy, who calls out MLB
Commissioner Bud Selig as a frequent visitor to Cuba and friend of
members of the regime.
Photographs of Selig in Cuba sitting next to Fidel Castro support his
view: "The real problem is that MLB does not treat Cuban players in the
same way as they do other international players," says Claver-Carone.
Under MLB rules, only Cubans who arrive in the United States via a third
country are allowed to negotiate as free agents; that is where the
lucrative contracts lie. MLB policy ignores Cubans who arrive legally by
other means such like a visa or wet foot-dry foot. They can only be
hired by a team as an amateur draft pick who earns far less. It is a
rule the MLB could easily change, thus eliminating the stain of
corruption and immorality associated with human trafficking.
There are those who say that the Cuban embargo is the culprit behind the
human trafficking of ball players, but that clearly isn't true. By
changing its rules, the MLB could let all Cuban arrivals negotiate as
free agents like other international players.
Cuban baseball players might not care how they get off the island, but
the rest of us should. Human exploitation is wrong. The Florida
Legislature was right in unanimously passing a law that attempts to
pressure the MLB to level the playing field for all Cuban ball players.
The story is out that sports agents and drug cartels are smuggling Cuban
players; MLB needs to step up to the plate and do the right thing for
all international ball players, including Cubans.
Source: Unfortunately, cash, smugglers rule | The Miami Herald -