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
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, www.seas.gwu.edu/ns
The documents show that Kissinger eventually rejected Kuhn's bid despite
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 --
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
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,
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
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
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
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
Desk sent the secretary a two-page memo with a detailed list of arguments for the
The game ``would undercut the demonology in Cuban propaganda about the
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
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
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,
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
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.