What if the Orioles flew to Havana? Trading with enemy: Club's foreign policy initiative crosses legal foul line.

April 04, 1997

THE WAY for the Baltimore Orioles to win permission to play baseball with the Cuban national team in Havana would be to revert to amateur status and charge no admission for the games. If they are paid to play and Cubans pay to see the games, it would violate the 1961 U.S. embargo on economic relations with the bastion of communism in the Caribbean. Amateur U.S. athletes, however, visit Cuba legally to compete.

The U.S. Treasury, which denied the Orioles a license to play in Cuba last year and is considering a second request, has little choice. The law is the law. Under the Helms-Burton Act, the U.S. government even tries to impose it on foreigners. Surely it cannot waive for U.S. citizens what it forbids to Canadians.

Two Cuban-born Republican members of Congress from Florida have protested the Orioles' foreign policy initiative. They may want to make it rough for the Orioles to return to their state next February. But they have it wrong.

Baltimore and Havana both used to be in the International League. Games between the Orioles and the Cuban national team would give Cubans a chance to see Cuban-born Rafael Palmeiro, who has been in this country since 1971.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen protested this would "grant the regime the legitimacy it does not deserve and would only serve to exploit the Cuban baseball players." Wrong. It would make more Cubans feel better about the U.S. Cuba reluctantly let its baseball team play in the Atlanta Olympics, despite the inevitable defections, but if that team ever came to play exhibitions in Baltimore, most of it wouldn't go back.

The State Department, Treasury, Cuban American National Foundation and Republican Party of Florida have failed to overthrow communism in Cuba for four decades. Peter Angelos, principal owner of the Baltimore Orioles, might succeed. His methods are more subversive of established order.

Don't think Fidel Castro doesn't know. The Clinton administration granted approval for 10 U.S. news operations to establish bureaus in Cuba, but Mr. Castro let in only one of them, CNN. Mr. Angelos said he wants to go to Cuba to scout baseball players, just as Mr. Castro fears.

If the anti-Castro establishments of south Florida and Washington had sense, they would support the Angelos proposal and let the Castro regime take the rap for preventing it.

Pub Date: 4/04/97

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