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Baseball Diplomacy: Cuban Team Awaiting Visas for Olympic Qualifier Event

Yordanis Samon, leading hitter for Cuba, Camaguey. Photo: Phil Selig

Cuba’s baseball team members told the Reuters news agency yesterday that the U.S. Embassy in Havana began processing visa applications to attend the Americas Olympic qualifying tournament in Florida, calling it a “triumph of baseball diplomacy.” Unfortunately, the visa applications are still pending.

Visa applications and other services of the embassy were shutdown during the Trump administration in 2017 denying Americans and Cuban family reunification and visa processing services.

Cuban baseball players and their managers have also been a victim of the embassy closure. The question remains whether they can attend the pre-Olympic qualifier tournament for the Tokyo Olympics.

The tournament will take place in West Palm Beach and Port St Lucie and is scheduled for May 31 to June 5.

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The baseball players had earlier tried to obtain visas in Mexico, Panama, and Guyana. They and their managers had then applied to the U.S. Embassy, which did not immediately respond to their applications.

A Reuters journalist reported they witnessed some of the baseball players and managers outside of the U.S. Embassy yesterday. Two of the players and a coach confirmed they were there for a visa application appointment.

Cuba is to play in Group B where it will face Colombia, Venezuela, and the Canadian baseball teams. The Group A team will also face games with the United States, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.

Baseball returns to the Olympics after 13 years of absence from the games. Cuba has won gold medals in baseball at earlier Olympics, in Barcelona in 1992, the Atlanta games in 1996, and Athens in 2004.

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The last time the world witnessed baseball diplomacy at its finest was in 2016 during the visit of former President Barack Obama to Cuba. The Cuban national team played against the MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays.

Cuba’s baseball managers confirmed the entire team has received two doses of COVID vaccinations – the Soberana 02 vaccine and a booster shot of Soberana Plus.

Top Cuban baseball expert and filmmaker Phil Selig said this latest act of baseball diplomacy, “The politics of Cuba are complex. They seep into baseball in Cuba sometimes but it is also a great connector to the world. I hope baseball can be an even bigger lever for change and connection but in the interim at the very least it is good to see a solution to the rumored Visa problems. Cuba deserves a chance to compete for and hopefully continue its dominance in Olympic baseball. They will be in tough and Cuban baseball is facing unparalleled challenges but the players and the people of Cuba persevere and are very proud.”

If the U.S. Embassy in Havana is unable to process the visa applications of the baseball players, they can try to qualify for the Olympics in Taipei in June.

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The Cuban Federation told the media early this afternoon that the granting of the visas for the Cuban baseball team to travel to the pre-Olympic event of the Americas, is still pending.

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