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Contraction Diplomacy
By Mark Feierstein

Fidel Castro recently celebrated his forty-third anniversary as Cuba's ruler, some ten years after many analysts predicted his fall was imminent with the demise of the Soviet Union. For four decades the United States has been powerless to ease Castro's grip on power, but the ingredients for a rapprochement between the two countries may finally be at hand.

The United States should offer Castro a deal: Major League Baseball will relocate to Havana one of the teams destined for extinction in exchange for Cuba's unconditional support of the American war on terrorism.

The opposition in the United States to a pact with the dictatorial Castro would admittedly be substantial. Many conservatives would howl that Fidel Castro should not be rewarded with a precious share of America's national pastime. Cuban Americans might agree that Havana should host a major league team—but not until Fidel and his cohorts are gone.

Such arguments might have held sway before September 11. But with the United States cozying up out of necessity to countries like Uzbekistan, a state not synonymous with political and civil liberties, a realpolitik reassessment of relations with a nation just ninety miles from our shores seems appropriate.

Major League Baseball in Cuba would also advance humanitarian objectives. Cuban players in the United States like Yankee pitcher Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez could be reunited with their families during road trips to Havana. The economic success of the Cuban expatriates would also not be lost on average Cubans, who would inevitably compare their hardscrabble existence with the exiles' riches and demand more from their government than outdated socialist experiments.

Like many of his predecessors, George W. Bush recognizes how sports can build bridges between peoples. Richard Nixon employed Ping-Pong diplomacy to advance dÈtente with China, a development that led to Bush Sr.'s posting as ambassador there. Bill Clinton allowed the Baltimore Orioles to stage an exhibition series with the Cuban national baseball team. On his recent trip to Cuba, Jimmy Carter softened criticism of his hosts by joining Castro at an All-Star game.

The younger Bush is a real baseball man: a former owner of the Texas Rangers, he has built a baseball diamond on the White House lawn so that youth from diverse backgrounds can gather on hallowed federal grounds to enjoy the Great American Game together.

Relocating a team to Cuba would be a win for all involved. The United States would sign up another ally in the war on terrorism. Major League Baseball would expand its reach beyond North America. Even the fans in the city that loses a team could take solace that they are sacrificing in the name of national and global security.

For Castro, the deal could prove irresistible. The Cuban president is a fanatical baseball enthusiast, and legend holds that in his younger days he threw a mean curveball that caught the attention of major league scouts.

Cuba takes pride in its own star-studded professional league, but a major league team would enable the island to demonstrate once and for all that it is no banana republic when it comes to baseball. The intensely nationalistic Castro is proud that he has kept the Yanquis at bay for forty-plus years. With a major league club in Havana, he would have a chance to see a Cuban team, the Havana Reds perhaps, defeat a real economic superpower—the New York Yankees.

The arrangement would not be without some risk, however. The combination of Major League Baseball and Cuba would be a marriage of economic basket cases. It isn't easy to take a resource-rich Caribbean country or America's national pastime and make them unprofitable, but that's exactly what Castro and major league owners have managed to do.

To Castro, however, Major League Baseball must be the workers' paradise that he has failed to produce. Players not only own the means of production; they are the means of production. How many industries boast minimum wages in the six-figures?

Castro would also feel at ease with major league owners. The dictator who often finds himself isolated from the hemisphere's democratic leaders would fit right in with the likes of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, whose public and private rantings could make Castro blush. One can even imagine the two trading jobs, with Fidel banishing players to the minors after an extended two-game losing streak and King George demanding absolute fealty from his subjects.

George Steinbrenner traded to Cuba. Now that would keep Bush's poll ratings up.



MARK FEIERSTEIN, whose baseball career peaked at age twelve, is a former State Department official and currently senior associate at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a polling firm in Washington, D.C.

© 2002 Mark Feierstein


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