The Miami Herald
March 28, 1999

Big leagues struck out in early secret bid for games in Cuba

             Havana's intervention in Angola ended 1975 effort

             By JUAN O. TAMAYO
             Herald Staff Writer

             Major League Baseball wanted to play in Cuba. In late March. U.S. officials
             argued that the game would ``help break the ice in relations with Cuba, even
             though Havana was showing no moderation.

             Sound like the run-up to today's Baltimore Orioles' game in Havana?

             Wrong. It happened 24 years ago, when baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn
             waged a secret six-month campaign to push Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to
             allow a U.S. all-star team to play in Havana.

             ``Baseball diplomacy is not a new idea, but . . . it is an idea whose time has finally
             come, Peter Kornbluh, senior analyst at the National Security Archive, wrote
             Thursday of the archive's discovery of 18 letters and declassified State
             Department memos detailing the campaign. The archive, a foreign policy research
             institution based at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., posted
             the documents on its Web site,

             The documents show that Kissinger eventually rejected Kuhn's bid despite strong
             support from Assistant Secretary of State William D. Rogers, then carrying out a
             series of secret negotiations with Cuban officials on behalf of Kissinger.

             Rogers, still an influential voice in foreign policy debates, was more recently a key
             backer of a proposal for a bipartisan commission to review U.S. policies on Cuba,
             perceived as a veiled attempt to lift the U.S. embargo on the island.

             State Department officials reject any parallel between the game today -- with a
             return match scheduled in Baltimore on May 3 -- and the matches proposed by
             Kuhn in 1975.

             U.S. view of the games

             While the 18 documents show an intent to use baseball to ``bridge the gap in
             U.S.-Cuban relations, Washington now insists, at least in public, that the Orioles
             games are designed to increase contacts with the Cuban people while continuing to
             isolate President Fidel Castro and his government.

             ``It would really be a major misconception to call this baseball diplomacy, a senior
             Clinton administration official told reporters Thursday. ``It's people-to-people
             contacts, pretty simply.''

             The 18 documents and the current controversy over the Orioles' trip to Cuba
             show how little has changed in relations between Washington and Havana since
             1975, despite the end of the Cold War.

             Kuhn opened his campaign with a note to Kissinger on Jan. 14, 1975, reporting
             that Preston Gomez, Cuban-born manager of Houston's major league team, had
             met in Havana with Cuban sports officials who had ``indicated a strong interest in
             a U.S. team playing a Cuban squad on March 28-30 of that year.

             Rogers weighed in four days later with a memo to Kissinger mentioning Kuhn's
             proposal and noting that the commissioner was ``a former client of mine. Rogers
             was a Washington lawyer before joining the State Department.

             Baseball's `magic value'

             Rogers later notified Kissinger that Kuhn had proposed a game for March 29, to
             be broadcast on U.S. television, and was advocating Major League Baseball's
             ``magic value in projecting a positive image of the U.S.

             But Rogers added a caution: ``As to Cuba, I am frank to say that I have seen
             nothing on the Cuban side so far which could be taken as a move to which the
             baseball trip might be considered a responsive gesture.

             On Feb. 14, 1975, Kissinger's staff sent Rogers a note: ``The secretary said he is
             against proposal to send a baseball team to Cuba at this time, but would like to
             hear reasons for it.

             Just four days later, Rogers and Culver Gleysteen of the State Department's Cuba
             Desk sent the secretary a two-page memo with a detailed list of arguments for the
             baseball game:

             The game ``would undercut the demonology in Cuban propaganda about the U.S.,
             it said, and ``serve [to bridge] . . . the gap between the Bay of Pigs and a new
             relationship with Castro.

             This isn't ping-pong

             Kissinger's approval of ping-pong diplomacy -- permitting an American table
             tennis team to play in China in 1971 -- had been ``accepted by the U.S. public as
             a good way to break the ice between countries separated by decades of hostility,
             the memo added. And Cuban exiles would ``find it difficult . . . to take issue
             despite their general uneasiness about any change in U.S.-Cuban relations.

             Rogers wrote Kissinger on Feb. 24 that he had ``called off the baseball game and
             that Kuhn had realized there were ``problems somewhat larger than baseball.

             But the commissioner launched a second campaign May 13, proposing that
             Kissinger give him permission to announce that a U.S. baseball team would play in
             Cuba the next spring, in 1976.

             Rogers went to bat for the new Kuhn proposal, writing Kissinger on June 21 that
             Cuba had by then returned the $2 million ransom paid to a hijacker who had
             commandeered a Southern Airways jetliner to Cuba.

             ``A baseball visit might be a tidy and apolitical gesture of response, Rogers wrote.
             He added that Kissinger could give Kuhn the go-ahead to announce the 1976
             games or to continue working quietly on the details with Cuban officials and await
             later approval from Kissinger.

             Kissinger's handwritten note on the margin of the delay option reads: ``This is the
             option I like.

             Four months later, Castro sent 18,000 troops to Angola to support the Marxist
             side in a bloody civil war. Kissinger ordered Rogers to stop his secret meetings
             with Cuban officials.