Sports Outside the Beltway

Will Venezuela Become the New Cuba

In an article written by Chris Kilne of Baseball America (subscription needed) there is some concern expressed over how the relations between the US government and Venezuela will impact MLB.

But imagine what would happen if Venezuela becomes the next Cuba–which is seemingly the direction many front-office officials across Major League Baseball see the country taking after electing president Hugo Chavez to another six-year term in December.

Chavez sees Fidel Castro’s Cuba as a model for countering American influence in his country, and cutting off Venezuela’s talent completely from MLB organizations, in Castro-like fashion, would be the worst-case scenario. It is not completely out of the realm of possibility according to many international scouting directors, especially based on the recent experience many clubs have had while doing business in the country.

“Just 10 years ago we had over 10 academies set up and running there–a lot of time and money invested,” said one scouting director from a National League club. “Four years ago we had three, and as of last year we pulled out completely.

“We still scout the country heavily, but even that is riskier than it’s ever been. And the cost to run academies there just isn’t worth it for small to mid-market teams.”

While MLB says it is not a problem yet they seem to be a little worried

MLB disputes many of the claims about Venezuela but is obviously concerned about doing business in the country, especially with the political climate being what it is.

“I don’t think it’s as much the political climate as much as it is the costliness of the venture and how much more involved it is than, say, opening up an academy in the Dominican,” MLB’s vice president of international baseball operations and administration Lou Melendez said. “There are three main points clubs want to address when considering investing in Venezuela: the basic laws of the country and what kind of burden that really can be; the safety issue, because the security situation there is tenuous at best; and then there’s Chavez . . . and there isn’t anything you can do about that.”

According to the article Chavez was elected because he offered hope to the country’s “poor majority.” What works in the benifit of MLB is that if he cuts of access to the country’s talent it might be the worst mistake he can make

Chavez,though, is a huge baseball fan. He references the sport in many of his speeches, and the game is also his country’s national pastime–rare in soccer-dominated South America.

“You just don’t know what this guy is capable of or what he might do,” said another MLB official. “The more you listen to what he’s saying, the more the concern grows about what the future holds. I don’t see him shutting the country down though. There’s too much to lose. Baseball is king in Venezuela and the game might be the one thing bigger and more popular than him.”

Lets hope the conflict between our government and the Venezuela government is limited to words and no more.

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