Photo: ESPN retrieved

From October to February, the baseball season used to be the hot topic in Venezuela. That ended a few years ago, when ticket sales went down, the typical snacks (chips, peanuts and tostón) were impossible to buy and getting around at night, with the collapse of public transport, became a hurdle. Then the blackouts came (an everyday occurrence in Zulia, one of the big baseball cities), and even cold beer, sacred at these venues, got way too expensive.

In addition to all this, now come the economic sanctions that U.S. President, Donald Trump, imposed on the Venezuelan regime of Nicolás Maduro, drawing the limit chalk line for the Liga Venezolana de Beisbol Profesional (LVBP). 

The commissioner of the Major League Baseball in the U.S. warned their players about the possibility of not being allowed in the upcoming winter baseball season in Venezuela, because of the president’s Executive Order.

The Executive Order signed on August 5th freezes the Venezuelan government and associated entities’ assets, forbidding any U.S.-based body from making transactions with them, with a few exceptions, such as official affairs with the Federal Government and those related to humanitarian aid.

The problem is that professional baseball in Venezuela is associated to an international calendar with formal ties to the American major leagues.

What Does It Mean for Baseball?

On August 22nd, the commissioner of the Major League Baseball (MLB) in the U.S. warned their players about the possibility of not being allowed in the upcoming winter baseball season in Venezuela, because of the president’s Executive Order.

In other words, the MLB broke up with the local league, and it’ll stay that way until the Treasury Department can confirm whether the MLB can restore contact without risking penalties.

The MLB, which organizes both major and minor leagues, left the LVBP out of the winter deal that regulates commitments between the Caribbean leagues. Only the Treasury Department can give the green light. Further complicating matters is how, for the past two or three seasons, our league has been linked to PDVSA, exactly what the Executive Order forbids.

But How Much of This Affects the Players?

According to Felix Luzón, economist and certified agent for the MLBPA, this matter involves every player with a valid contract with the MLB. So unless PDVSA stops sponsoring the league or an exception for the Executive Order is placed, “the risk would be a penalty from the Office for Foreign Assets Control, OFAC, if the Maduro government funds the league and the player plays. If the penalty stands but the LVBP separates itself from government funding, they shouldn’t have problems.”

With all these issues, the local season won’t start in October, but on November 5th, even if the eight teams have enough players. Ball players from other countries or independent players can come, but the league is frozen. No one wants to be sanctioned.

The problem, Luzón states, is that if the government funds the Venezuelan league, it’s likely that relations with the U.S. will have to be reviewed, both financially and in terms of migration. The LVBP board of directors has had problems of its own lately; in September, Juan José Avila resigned his post as director, although he firmly backs the start of the season: “We want baseball. We’re working hard through several means so that the OFAC rules in our favor and Venezuela is once more an affiliate, allowing us to have our championship, number 75, without setbacks.”

If the government funds the Venezuelan league, it’s likely that relations with the U.S. will have to be reviewed, both financially and in terms of migration.

“We will have baseball here, even if we have to play ourselves,” said Diosdado Cabello, chavismo’s number two. These statements only worsen the conflict; if the dictatorship is directly involved in the league, this is precisely what scares the MLB. The Cuban case is similar and it originates in the same way.

In any case, if Venezuela starts their championship on November 5th, with or without the decision from the MLB, attendance, sponsorships, marketing and other elements will be affected. The calendar for the regular season will go down from 63 to 42 games, partly because of the serious economic, social and political crisis hitting the country, a crisis partially responsible for moving the Serie del Caribe from Barquisimeto, in Venezuela, to Panama.

For Félix Luzón, the major league’s future in Venezuela isn’t very encouraging. Teams won’t benefit from a league whose return is a devalued currency. “Besides, stronger sanctions will come with an even broader scope.”

Now, the new president of the LVBP, Giuseppe Palmisano, is at bat right now, lobbying hard before the OFAC and not drop the Venezuelan ball.

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