From BR Bullpen
"Base ball has taken a strong hold on the Cuban public. There are over seventy-five clubs in that little island. The Sporting Life also has quite a large sale down there . . ." - The Sporting Life, August 22, 1891
Cuba is an island country located in the Caribbean region. The nation's capital is Havana. Baseball has a long and rich history in Cuba, having first been brought to the island by young men who had gone to study in the United States in the 19th Century. The sport was quickly adopted by all social classes as a nationalist symbol at a time when the island's population sought its independence from Spain and looked to the United States as a potential protector. Negro League players often played in Cuba before 1950 on racially mixed teams, and many great major league players have come from Cuba. Baseball is currently governed by the Federación Cubana de Béisbol (Cuban Baseball Federation), which sponsors the Cuban National League. In the pre-1959 Fidel Castro-led Revolution era, there was the professional Cuban League.
 Brief History
 1959 Cuban Revolution
The Cuban Revolution was the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista's regime by the 26th of July Movement and the establishment of a new Cuban government led by Fidel Castro in 1959. Castro's revolutionary campaign began with the unsuccessful assault on the Moncada Barracks on July 26, 1953, and ended on January 1, 1959, when Batista was driven from the country and the cities of Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba were seized by rebels, led by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro's surrogates Raúl Castro and Huber Matos, respectively. The term "Cuban Revolution" is also used to refer to the social revolution after the overthrow of Batista and the adoption of Marxist principles by the new Cuban Government.
The Cuban Winter League and Havana Sugar Kings were the primary baseball victims of the revolution, as professional baseball was stopped. The Cuban Serie Nacional got its start as a result to continue top baseball competition on the island. Major league teams were forbidden from signing Cuban players, who had to seek permission - seldom granted - to play outside the island. The Cuban government focused its efforts on developing the Cuban national team as a force that could compete with anyone in the world in amateur competitions. This program was very successful, as the Cuban team dominated international events until the 1990s, while very few top players left.
 Mariel boatlift
The Mariel boatlift was a mass movement of Cubans who departed from Cuba's Mariel Harbor to the United States between April 15 and October 31, 1980. It was precipitated by a sharp downturn in the Cuban economy, leading to simmering internal tensions on the island and a bid by up to 10,000 Cubans to gain asylum in the Peruvian embassy. Subsequently the government announced that anyone who wanted to leave could do so, and an impromptu exodus organised by Cuban-Americans with the agreement of Cuban President Fidel Castro was underway. The exodus was ended by mutual agreement between the two governments in October 1980, by that time up to 125,000 had made the journey to Florida. Barbaro Garbey was the most notable baseball player to switch countries at this point.
 The end of the Cold War
The collapse of the USSR in 1991 and the end of the Cold War exacerbated growing economic problems in Cuba, as the country lost its principal supplier of energy and of many consumer goods. While the Cuban regime was expected to follow in turn, it hung on through periods of partial liberalization followed by severe crackdowns on dissidents. The United States maintained an economic embargo on the island from the 1960s onward, but it was not followed by any other country, which allowed Cuba to survive even if it was far from thriving. The growing hardships led many of its citizens to consider the possibility of braving the seas in order to seek exile in the United States or elsewhere. Baseball players were among this number, with players such as Livan Hernandez and Yuniesky Betancourt escaping by boat in precarious conditions to eventually reach the United States. Other players defected during international tournaments, depriving Cuban baseball of many of its stars, starting in the mid-1990s - both those who left and those who were suspected of wanting to leave and were thus kept from playing for the national team.
By the mid-2000s, a badly ill Fidel Castro was no longer making decisions in Cuba, but the closed regime continued to function under his brother Raul and various cronies. Support received from nearby Venezuela and its President Hugo Chavez helped the island to keep its head above water economically, although the advancing age of the Castro brothers and Chavez's own death left the future in doubt by the beginning of the 2010s.
 Further Reading
- Peter C. Bjarkman: A History of Cuban Baseball, 1864-2006, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2007.
- Thomas Boswell: "How Baseball Helps the Harvest or What the Bay of Pigs Did to the Bigs", in How Life Imitates the World Series, Penguin Books, New York, NY, 1982, pp. 81-96.
- Roberto González Echevarría: The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1999.
- Michael Lewis: "Commie Ball: A Journey to the End of the Revolution", Vanity Fair, July 2008.
- Michel Nareau: Double jeu: Baseball et littératures américaines, Le Quartanier, Montréal, QC, 2012, pp. 55-65. ISBN 978-2-923400-91-4
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