Sat, Dec 17, 2005 - Page 18 News List

US won't permit Cuban team to play in Baseball Classic

AP , HAVANA

Cubans were outraged on Thursday over a US government decision to keep the island's Olympic champion team out of the inaugural World Baseball Classic next year.

While Cuban government officials had yet to react to Wednesday's decision, and sports officials declined comment, people on the street were angry because it meant they won't see their players go up against the American major league stars.

"Enough already!" exclaimed Antonio Mayeta, whose brother plays for Havana's Industriales baseball team. "It's unbelievable. This is about sports, not politics. In Cuba, baseball is our culture."

Mayeta, who works at a state-operated grocery store, added, "Everyone was so anxious to see those games."

Baseball's first World Cup-style tournament, which includes 16 teams, will run from March 3-20 in the US, Puerto Rico and Japan.

The US Treasury Department, which issues permits for commercial transactions with Cuba, cited the long-standing trade and travel embargo against the communist nation for its decision.

Organizers will work to have the decision reversed, according to Paul Archey, the senior vice president of Major League Baseball International, and Gene Orza, the chief operating officer of the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Puerto Rico's Secretary of State Fernando Bonilla also offered to help. He said he'll meet on Friday with the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Puerto Rico, and seek help from Luis Fortuno, Puerto Rico's nonvoting representative in the US Congress, and from the director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in Washington.

The Cuban team likely would have included only players residing in Cuba, and not defectors such as Jose Contreras, Orlando Hernandez and Livan Hernandez, who have become major league stars, organizers said.

In the tournament schedule announced last week, Cuba was to play its three first-round games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, facing Panama on March 8, the Netherlands on March 9 and Puerto Rico the following day.

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