EXCLUSIVE: Trump Set To Roll Back Obama’s Cuba Policies

President Donald Trump is set to announce a rollback of former President Barack Obama’s policies toward Cuba, The Daily Caller has learned.

Two sources told TheDC that the development is due to the behind-the-scenes efforts of Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez and Republican Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

This information coming from an anti-embargo group, which spoke on the condition of anonymity, was confirmed Sunday by John Kavulich of the nonpartisan U.S. – Cuba Trade and Economic Council. “The Trump Administration has been ‘ready’ since February 2017 to announce changes, but issues unrelated to Cuba have intervened,” Kavulich said.

Former President Obama worked to enact several changes to Cuban policy during his tenure in office. He ended the policy known as “wet foot, dry foot” that gave Cuban illegal immigrants a path to legal status, opened travel to the island nation, re-established diplomatic relations and loosened restrictions on doing business in the country.

These moves were applauded along bipartisan lines, but Cuban hardliners weren’t pleased. Trump himself has been on both sides of the issue. He told TheDC in 2015 that the “concept of opening with Cuba is fine,” but on the campaign trail he threatened to “terminate” deals that the Obama administration made with Cuba.

The campaign trail rhetoric carried over into the administration, as Trump said in a February press conference that he has “very similar views” on Cuba as Sen. Rubio.

His administration launched a “full review” of Cuban policy, and White House press secretary Sean Spicer told TheDC Sunday that there “are no updates on this issue at this time.”

Rubio and Rep. Diaz-Balart, however, have been publicly confident that Trump will bring back hardline policies against Cuba. The National Journal reported Wednesday that Diaz-Balart said he is “1,000 percent sure the president is going to deliver on his commitment.”

“I have no doubt that you’re going to see in short order a different policy,” the Cuban-American legislator added. Rubio tweeted in March that he is “quite confident” Trump will “treat [Cuba] like a dictatorship.”

The Florida senator also told El Nuevo Herald, “We’ve been walking through all these issues with the president and his team, figuring out the right steps to take and when.”

Sen. Menendez has not spoken on the topic since Trump became president, and a spokeswoman told TheDC she is unaware of these concessions from the Trump administration.

Diaz-Balart’s office did not respond to a media inquiry about behind-the-scenes work with the Trump administration, and a Rubio spokesman said he can’t provide TheDC with “anything at this time.”

The anti-embargo group told TheDC that Trump will announce these changes in a June speech in Miami. The White House also refused to confirm or deny this.

Kavulich said that the administration will enact “increased enforcement relating to travel,” and “a focus upon discouraging transactions with entities controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) of the Republic of Cuba.”

Starwood Hotels & Resorts International currently has a hotel under management that is owned by a company controlled by the FAR, according to Kavulich.

The move to enact stricter policies toward Cuba will likely land the president criticism from several of his Republican colleagues. A bill introduced by Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake Thursday to remove all travel restrictions with Cuba has nine Republican cosponsors.

“Recognizing the inherent right of Americans to travel to Cuba isn’t a concession to dictators, it is an expression of freedom,” Sen. Flake said in a statement. “It is Americans who are penalized by our travel ban, not the Cuban government.”

Donald Trump’s thoughts on the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy

Donald Trump’s thoughts on the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy

On Aug. 11, 2016, Donald Trump gave his thoughts on the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ Cuban immigration policy as part of a wide-ranging interview with Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei focused on South Florida issues.

Emily Michot Miami Herald

But Trump’s policy shop, citing the president’s political agenda, signaled the White House would want to make changes, the sources said — and was already talking about them to Cuban-American lawmakers from Miami.

“Only the president will decide the best course to take in regard to U.S. relations with Cuba,” a senior White House official said Thursday. “The president is aware that government repression against Cuban opposition, dissidents and peaceful civic protesters such as the Ladies in White have dramatically increased since the renewing of diplomatic relations with Cuba.”

As a candidate, Trump vowed in Miami last September to “reverse” Obama’s Cuba “concessions.” His campaign credited Trump’s visit a month later to Little Havana’s Bay of Pigs Museum, where he accepted an endorsement from the Brigade 2506 veterans, as an important reason he won Florida on Election Night — an assertion disputed by supporters of Cuban engagement.

“As the President has said, the current Cuba policy is a bad deal,” another senior White House official said Thursday. “It does not do enough to support human rights in Cuba.

“We are in the final stages of our Cuba policy review,” the official said. “However, a final decision on a path forward has not yet been made. Once the review is complete, we will announce the results.”

An announcement is expected in coming weeks — perhaps from Trump himself in a Miami visit as early as June —but no date has been set.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio

Tasos Katopodis Getty Images

Pushing a harder line are two Republican lawmakers, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami. Both have spoken to the White House several times on Cuba policy, though Rubio is said to be dealing with Trump and his aides more closely, given his more dispassionate demeanor and willingness to accept some Cuban engagement, especially ahead of Castro’s planned 2018 retirement.

“I am confident the president will keep his commitment on Cuba policy by making changes that are targeted and strategic and which advance the Cuban people’s aspirations for economic and political liberty,” Rubio said in a statement.

Diaz-Balart brought up Cuba when the White House courted his vote for the American Health Care Act beginning in March, though he has repeatedly denied trading his healthcare support for any commitment from the White House on Cuba policy. He was traveling Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

Roberto Koltun Miami Herald

Among the changes the White House has considered for months is restricting popular “people-to-people” travel to Cuba, which allows Americans to visit for educational and cultural exchange purposes. Critics consider such trips outright tourism in violation of the Cuban trade embargo, which can only be lifted by Congress.

“Travel is at stake in the review,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a lobbying group.

Last week, in an attempted show of force to the White House, more than 50 senators backed legislation to eliminate U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba. On Thursday, Engage Cuba claimed undoing Obama’s policies would result in steep economic losses for the U.S.

Prohibiting existing commercial flights and cruises to Cuba could prove difficult, several sources familiar with the regulations said, though banning business between U.S. companies and companies tied to the Cuban military — an idea pushed by Rubio and Diaz-Balart — would affect American firms already working in Cuba. For example, Starwood Hotels and Resorts manages hotels in Cuba owned by the Gaviota chain, a military enterprise.

Enforcing such a ban might require the Treasury Department to create a list of companies known to be linked to the Cuban military, sanction specific individuals or companies, or require Cuban companies doing business with U.S. firms to certify that they don’t have any military ties.

Trump addresses Cuban American Foundation in Miami

Donald Trump spoke to the Cuban American National Foundation in 1999, casting himself as a pro-embargo hardliner who refused to do potentially lucrative business in Cuba until Fidel Castro was gone. Keyframe photo by Tim Chapman of Donald Trump as he blasts Fidel Castro and says we need to keep the embargo on Cuba while at the Bay of Pigs Association in Little Havana, on Nov. 15, 1999.

C-SPAN

Neither of the Cuban-American lawmakers have sought to close the U.S. embassy in Havana, or to return to the policies of former President George W. Bush, who restricted family travel and remittances to Cuba.

A member of the business community with knowledge of the situation who did not want to speak publicly because of the sensitivity of the subject said Cuba is not a top priority of the Trump White House, which has yet to push anything significant through Congress.

But the person said that Rubio and Diaz-Balart are engaged in an intense lobbying effort pushing the administration to act.

“I don’t think Trump cares,” the person said.

Kumar and Ordoñez reported from Washington.

How Cuba policy, and its inevitable drama, ensnared Trump’s White House

How Cuba policy, and its inevitable drama, ensnared Trump’s White House

On Aug. 11, 2016, Donald Trump gave his thoughts on the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ Cuban immigration policy as part of a wide-ranging interview with Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei focused on South Florida issues.

Emily Michot Miami Herald

But Trump’s policy shop, citing the president’s political agenda, signaled the White House would want to make changes, the sources said — and was already talking about them to Cuban-American lawmakers from Miami.

“Only the president will decide the best course to take in regard to U.S. relations with Cuba,” a senior White House official said Thursday. “The president is aware that government repression against Cuban opposition, dissidents and peaceful civic protesters such as the Ladies in White have dramatically increased since the renewing of diplomatic relations with Cuba.”

As a candidate, Trump vowed in Miami last September to “reverse” Obama’s Cuba “concessions.” His campaign credited Trump’s visit a month later to Little Havana’s Bay of Pigs Museum, where he accepted an endorsement from the Brigade 2506 veterans, as an important reason he won Florida on Election Night — an assertion disputed by supporters of Cuban engagement.

“As the President has said, the current Cuba policy is a bad deal,” another senior White House official said Thursday. “It does not do enough to support human rights in Cuba.

“We are in the final stages of our Cuba policy review,” the official said. “However, a final decision on a path forward has not yet been made. Once the review is complete, we will announce the results.”

An announcement is expected in coming weeks — perhaps from Trump himself in a Miami visit as early as June —but no date has been set.

Rollback of Cuba Policies Will Harm U.S. Agriculture

Rollback of Cuba Policies Will Harm U.S. Agriculture – Southeast AgNET

rollback

A recent study says any rollback of Obama-era moves to normalize relations with Cuba will harm U.S. Agriculture. The study by Engage Cuba, a coalition of private companies seeking an end to the Cuba embargo, says any new regulations on exporting agricultural commodities to Cuba could cost $1.5 billion and affect 2,200 U.S. jobs. That’s on top of the estimated $6.6 billion economic impact and near 13,000 jobs on the line, if President Donald Trump changes provisions by former President Barack Obama.

USA Today says the expected rollback by President Trump is largely based on discussions with Cuban-American Republican lawmakers from Florida, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, and Senator Marco Rubio. The announcement would come eight months after candidate Trump promised Cuban-Americans during a Miami campaign speech that he would reverse Obama’s policies on Cuba if the Castro government didn’t increase political and religious freedoms.

(From the National Association of Farm Broadcasters)

Trump likely to close Cuba doors that Obama opened

Trump likely to close Cuba doors that Obama opened – People’s World

Trump likely to close Cuba doors that Obama opened
Trump likely to close Cuba doors that Obama opened – People’s World

Juvenal Balán/Granma

Reuters, The New York Times, and other news outlets are echoing a May 29 report by the right-wing Daily Caller website stating that “President Donald Trump is set to announce a rollback of former President Barack Obama’s policies toward Cuba.” The report attributed the information to John Kavulich of the U.S. – Cuba Trade and Economic Council.  He in turn had learned of change in the wind from “an anti-embargo group.”

The Daily Caller suggests the Trump administration is responding to pressure from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Bob Menendez, (D-NJ), and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), all Cuban-American legislators.

There is agreement among journalists who cover the White House that the administration will probably announce new Cuba policies during June, although delay is possible.

In a June 1 front page story the Times suggests that the Trump administration will be alleging Cuban human rights abuses to justify this return to the past. Trump wants to “fulfill a pledge, delivered during a speech in Miami in September, to a crucial constituency that disproportionately supported him.”

Citing anonymous sources within the administration, the Times reporter claims that the expected executive actions will be targeting “American companies and firms that have ties to the Cuban military.”  The story cites Robert L. Muse, a lawyer knowledgeable about Cuban affairs, predicting that the impact would be considerable, inasmuch as the Cuban Army’s reach extends throughout the Cuban economy.

Muse opined that, “This is a return to the old playbook of creating ambiguity and uncertainty so that nobody knows what is permissible and what isn’t, and it would add another level of legal exposure to doing business in Cuba.”

The Trump administration may be on the verge also of reversing President Obama’s easing of restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba. And, as the Times reports, “the president is weighing an increase in funding for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for programs that promote democracy in Cuba.” Cuba, for its part, tags these as U. S. interference with hostile intent in Cuban affairs.

Notably, however, “USAID programs in Cuba … aren’t funded under the Trump administration’s proposed State Department budget for Fiscal Year 2018,” according to the Miami Herald.

According to “people familiar with the discussion,” who informed the New York Times, a split over the future direction of Trump’s Cuba policies has emerged between “senior officials” and Trump’s “legislative affairs operation.”  The divide surfaced at a meeting in May organized by the National Security Council. In that meeting, the first group pointed to advantages under current regulations that stem from “cooperation in intelligence-sharing, drug interdiction, scientific research and a host of other areas.”

Responding to the prospect of barriers reappearing, Engage Cuba, an organization representing U. S. businesses that seek working relations with Cuba, issued a wide – ranging report that spelled out adverse economic effects from any revamping of U. S. policies. Summarizing, it said that, “a reversal of Cuba policies would [within four years] cost the U.S. economy $6.6 billion and affect 12,295 American jobs.” And national security interests would be threatened.

In a June 5 editorial highly critical of Trump administration changes presumably on the way, the New York Times referred to Engage Cuba’s dire projections.  The group’s analysis, however, assumes that “the entire U.S. regulatory regime” is going to return. But the Trump administration has given no indication that such will be the case.

Academician William M. LeoGrande, an expert on the history of Cuba – U. S. negotiations, commented in January on the possibility of a reversal of Obama policies.  He pointed to a paradox: the Trump administration would be acquiescing to the demands of Cuban – American politicians. But in the recent presidential election, far fewer Cuban – Americans voted for Trump in 2016 than voted for Republican candidates before 2012. Crucially, opinion surveys show that most Cuban – Americans want normal U. S. – Cuban relations.

Anticipating the reversal of some or all of President Obama’s reforms,  Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) recently noted “[h]ow sadly ironic and short-sighted it would be if, soon after singing the praises of the repressive leaders of Russia, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, President Trump were to return to a failed 55-year-old policy of sanctions and ultimatums against tiny Cuba.”  

The Latin American Working Group (LAWG) is a Washington – based organization advocating for human rights in Latin America before Congress and the White House.  The LAWG on May 30 called for agitation to prevent the Trump administration from reinstating Bush – era Cuba policies.

Undoing All the Good Work on Cuba

To the long list of Barack Obama’s major initiatives that President Trump is obsessed with reversing, we may soon be able to add Cuba. In 2014, Mr. Obama opened a dialogue with Cuba after more than a half-century of unyielding hostility, leading to an easing of sanctions. Mr. Trump promised in his campaign to return to a more hard-line approach. If he does, as seems likely, he will further isolate America, hurt American business interests and, quite possibly, impede the push for greater democracy on the Caribbean island.

Soon after his election, Mr. Trump declared, vaguely but ominously, that if Cuba did not “make a better deal” he would “terminate deal.” He gave no specifics and no decisions have been announced. But details of what a policy reversal could look like are emerging.

The aim generally would be to reimpose limits on travel and commerce, supposedly to punish Cuba’s despotic government, now led by Raúl Castro, brother of the revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. Among the measures being considered are blocking transactions by American companies with firms that have ties to the Cuban military, which is deeply enmeshed in the economy, and tightening restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba that Mr. Obama eased last year before his historic trip to Havana.

This hard-line sanctions-based approach was in place for more than 50 years after the 1959 revolution and never produced what anti-Castro activists hoped would be the result, the ouster of Cuba’s Communist government in favor of democracy. Isolating Cuba has become increasingly indefensible.

Mr. Obama’s opening to Havana has enabled the freer flow of people, goods and information between the two countries, even as significant differences remain over human rights. It has produced bilateral agreements on health care cooperation, joint planning to mitigate oil spills, coordination on counternarcotics efforts and intelligence-sharing. In April, Google’s servers went live in Cuba and thus it became the first foreign internet company to host content in one of the most unplugged nations on earth. Mr. Obama’s approach also encouraged Latin American countries to be more receptive to the United States as a partner in regional problem-solving.

A large pro-engagement coalition that includes lawmakers from both parties, businesses and young Cuban-Americans is pushing the White House to build on the foundation of engagement it inherited from Mr. Obama, not tear it down. Engage Cuba, representing business groups, economists and leading Cuba experts, has estimated that a reversal of Mr. Obama’s policies would cost the American economy $6.6 billion and affect more than 12,000 American jobs.

The group predicts that the hardest-hit areas will be rural communities that rely on agriculture, manufacturing and shipping industries, as well as Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, all of which supported Mr. Trump in the 2016 election. Among the deals that could be squashed is one struck by Starwood Hotels and Resorts last year to manage hotels in Cuba; future ones would effectively be frozen.

The White House and its allies argue that the Cuban government remains despotic and must be pressured to reform. But pressure has had a minimal impact and the human rights concerns are disingenuous, given Mr. Trump’s effusive embrace of authoritarian leaders from President Vladimir Putin in Russia to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt. He also pointedly told Sunni Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia last month that he has no intention of lecturing them on their repressive behavior toward their citizens.

As with his decision to withdraw from the global climate agreement, Mr. Trump’s approach to Cuba reflects a craven desire to curry favor with his political base, in this case conservative Republicans from Florida who are viscerally anti-Castro. That might help him get re-elected in 2020, but it would help no one else.

Strengthening ties with Cuba cannot guarantee Cuban reforms, but it is the best bet.

Photos of Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir Hanging with Che Guevara in Cuba (1960)

sartre che smoke

In 1960, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir ventured to Cuba during, as he wrote, the “honeymoon of the revolution.” Military strongman Fulgencio Batista’s regime had fallen to Fidel Castro’s guerilla army and the whole country was alight with revolutionary zeal. As Beauvoir wrote, “after Paris, the gaiety of the place exploded like a miracle under the blue sky.”

At the time, Sartre and de Beauvoir were internationally renown, the intellectual power couple of the 20th century. Beauvoir’s book, The Second Sex (1949), laid the groundwork for the feminism movement, and her book The Mandarins won France’s highest literary award in 1954. Sartre’s name had become a household word. The philosophy he championed – Existentialism – was being read and debated around the world. And his political activism — loudly condemning France’s war in Algeria, for instance — had given him real moral authority. When Sartre was arrested in 1968 for civil disobedience, Charles de Gaulle pardoned him, noting, “You don’t arrest Voltaire.” As Deirdre Bair notes in her biography of Beauvoir, “Sartre became the one intellectual whose presence and commentary emerging governments clamored for, as if he alone could validate their revolutions.” So it’s not terribly surprising that Fidel Castro wined and dined the two during their month in Cuba.

Cuban photographer Alberto Korda captured the couple as they met with Castro, Che Guevara and other leaders of the revolution. One picture (above) is of Guevara in his combat boots and trademark beret, lighting a cigar for the French philosopher. Sartre looks small and unhealthy compared to the strapping, magnetic revolutionary. Sartre was apparently impressed by the time he spent with the guerilla leader. When Che died in Bolivia seven years later, Sartre famously wrote that Guevara was “not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of our age.”

sartre-beauvoir-and-che-in-cuba
Later, Korda caught them as they were guided through the streets of Havana. And as you can see (below), that iconic image of Guevara, later plastered on T-shirts and Rage Against the Machine album covers, is on that same role of film.

When the couple returned to Paris, Sartre wrote article after article extolling the revolution. Beauvoir, who was equally impressed, wrote, “For the first time in our lives, we were witnessing happiness that had been attained by violence.”

Yet their enthusiasm for the regime cooled when they returned to Cuba a year later. The streets of Havana had little of the joy as the previous year. When they talked to factory workers, they heard little but parroting of the official party line. Beauvoir and Sartre ultimately denounced Castro (along with a bunch of other intellectual luminaries like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Octavio Paz) in an open letter that criticized him for the arrest of Cuban poet Herberto Padillo.

KordaFilmRollChe

Want to Improve Border Security? Seek Better Relations with Cuba

Ted Piccone, The National Interest Photo Credit: Huffington Post

As the Trump administration carries out its promised review of U.S. policy toward Cuba, it should think hard about the national and economic security implications of its next move. Three apparent courses of action—rolling back engagement and increasing punitive sanctions, continuing with normalization, or conditioning improved relations on further changes in Cuba—have distinct ramifications for the White House’s stated priorities to improve border security and generate jobs at home.

The chosen strategy will also influence to what extent rivals like China and Russia move further and faster to cement ties with Havana, at America’s expense. If this occurs, like-minded allies from Europe and Latin America could become preferred partners instead. Most importantly, Washington’s approach will directly affect the ability of Cuba’s eleven million citizens to fulfill their aspirations to live normal, prosperous and freer lives, in harmony with the two million Cubans living in the United States.

Cuban sugar burns to recapture sweet smell of success

Cuban sugar burns to recapture sweet smell of success

Pedro Betancourt (Cuba) (AFP) – A sweet smell of treacle used to fill the air in the village of Pedro Betancourt — but like the workers from the derelict Cuba Libre sugar refinery, it has dispersed.

It was the smell of success against the odds for Cuba, reviled by the United States and its allies in the Cold War but still a world champion sugar producer — until the Soviet Union fell and stopped buying it from Fidel Castro’s communist regime.

Now a demolition crane is attacking what is left of the Cuba Libre refinery’s rusty steel skeleton. Fidel is dead, the Cold War is over — and Cuba wants its sugar industry back.

“The refinery was the life of the people who lived here,” says Arnaldo Herrera, 86. He lost his job at the plant when it closed in 2004.

“When that changes, life changes.”

– Cane on the risin’ –

Britain and other colonial powers grew fat on Cuban sugarcane — harvested by black slaves — from the 18th century until independence at the turn of the 20th.

The island then sold a lot of sugar to the United States until Washington imposed a trade embargo after communist revolutionary Castro took over in 1959.

Castro later announced a “revolutionary offensive” to relaunch the industry. The Soviet Union bought the sugar at preferential prices.

For 1970 Castro famously set a production target of a “great harvest” of 10 million tonnes. (He fell short by 1.5 million.)

But after the Soviet bloc collapsed in 1989, with the US embargo still in place and prices falling, the island could no longer compete.

Two-thirds of its refineries — about 100 plants — have shut down since 2002.

From eight million tonnes a year in the 1990s, production plunged to just over one million in 2010.

“That was when we touched bottom,” says Rafael Suarez, head of international relations for the state sugar monopoly Azcuba.

“Since then an effort has been made. The refineries have been improved and a lot of emphasis has been put on recovering sugarcane production.”

Suarez says Azcuba is also looking to expand production of sugar derivatives: rum, cattle feed and renewable fuel.

– Human cost –

Some 100,000 Cubans used to work in refineries like the one in Pedro Betancourt in the east.

The refineries used to pay well, for Cuba — at least double the $28 average monthly salary.

Julio Dominguez, 84, worked in Cuba Libre until it shut.

“This town has been stripped bare. Tobacco production is all it has left,” he says.

The refinery stopped milling in 2004 and demolition began in 2007. Like everything in Cuba, it takes time.

Some still weep when they pass the site, says the head of the demolition, Eliecer Rodriguez.

“I am knocking it down, but that was someone else’s decision,” he says.

Workers were kept on their salaries for some time after the closure.

Some have since moved on to work as tobacco producers, taxi drivers or handymen. Others have emigrated to the United States.

Soccer beginning to gain foothold in Cuba

Tim Wendel, USA TODAY SportsPublished 9:02 p.m. ET April 4, 2017 | Updated 11:12 p.m. ET April 4, 2017

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HAVANA — Aerial photographs of soccer fields in Cuba were once enough to sound the alarm.

“Cubans play baseball,” warned a CIA consultant in 1970 after studying U.S. satellite images. “Russians play soccer.”

That was then on the island, soccer is now. Parks, empty lots and alleyways that were once home to baseball in and around Havana have been taken over by pickup or organized soccer games. Baseball aficionados say the shift began a decade ago and could have a major effect on a nation that has seen its top baseball talent defect — often under perilous conditions — to sign lucrative contracts with Major League Baseball teams.

“I’d been told it was happening, but until you see it with your own eyes, you can’t believe it,” says Milton Jamail, the author of Full Count: Inside Cuban Baseball, who has been to the island 10 times, most recently in January. “You always hear that baseball is Cuba’s game. But it is clearly not the only sport that has captured the attention of young men on the island.”

Reasons for this sports shift might sound familiar to U.S. fans:

•Baseball moves too slowly, especially on television.

•Soccer only requires a ball, while baseball equipment can be too expensive.

•Baseball in Cuba is often viewed as the sport of the older generation.

Perhaps as a sign of the times, Team Cuba failed to get out of pool play in the World Baseball Classic. Netherlands eliminated Cuba 14-1 on March 15.

Despite such struggles, they have been playing baseball in Cuba for almost as long as it’s been in the USA. In 1864, Nemesio Guillo returned to his homeland with a bat and baseball after studying in the USA. He and his brother, Ernesto, founded the Habana Base Ball Club, and the game in Cuba soon flourished. The first ballpark in the country was built in 1874 in Matanzas, east of Havana, and amateur leagues were soon organized around the island’s sugar mills.

In the USA, baseball remains as traditional as it gets. In Cuba, though, playing the game could be viewed as a political statement. In the 1890s, students and would-be revolutionaries were attracted to the sport because it demonstrated their support for an independent Cuba. Soon after taking power in 1959, Fidel Castro barnstormed with his ballclub, Los Barbudos. Yet turn on a TV in a Cuban home, and it’s easier to find soccer than baseball.

“Barcelona, Real Madrid, games from Brazil — those are all available to Cubans now,” says Luke Salas, a Cuban-American former minor league ballplayer who attempted to play in a provincial league outside of Havana in 2012. “And when you think about the growth of soccer on the island, it makes sense.”