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US To Allow More Contact With Cuba

January 6, 1999

HAVANA (AP) _ In baseball-mad Cuba, one of the biggest bonuses of an eased U.S. embargo could be a visit by a major league team.

``It would be a tremendous attraction,″ said Armando Armendares, a 31-year-old hotel worker taking part in a daily baseball argument in Havana’s Central Park.

The Clinton administration announced Tuesday that it would ease the movement of money, athletes and scholars to Cuba. As part of that, the Baltimore Orioles may travel to play teams in Cuba.

The government said it would approve a proposed meeting between the Orioles and Cuban teams, which U.S. officials have blocked in the past.

Details of the proposal were sketchy for most Cubans. Officials said they would not comment until they had studied Clinton’s proposal. State television mentioned the news only briefly.

But those gathered in Central Park were thrilled by the idea of seeing major league baseball in Cuba after a half-century absence _ since the 1947 visit of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

``How could I not go? I’ll be one of the first ones in the park,″ said Roman Garcia, wearing a New York Yankees cap.

The Clinton administration said the games will be allowed only if profits go to nongovernment humanitarian aid for Cubans, not to Fidel Castro’s government.

The Orioles are expected to send representatives to Cuba as early as this week to negotiate arrangements for a game in Cuba and one in Baltimore.

``Baseball is a wonderful medium in bringing people together. ... In that spirit, the Orioles welcome the opportunity to play a part in the efforts to improve relations between the two peoples,″ Orioles owner Peter Angelos said.

The Orioles have tried to play exhibition games in Cuba since at least 1996, but the U.S. government has rejected the requests. Also, unlike some major league teams, the Orioles have no Cuban defectors on their roster, which might make them more acceptable to Cuba.

A few defectors _ most recently Orlando Hernandez of the New York Yankees _ have made their way to the major leagues.

``Cuba is a country that has ballplayers growing like grass,″ said Garcia, 47, an unemployed driver and former amateur player.

He also noted that Cuban players will have an advantage for the proposed March or April meeting: They will be in end-of-season form, while U.S. players will be starting spring training.

While baseball may capture the imagination, the biggest impact of Tuesday’s measures may be a plan to let organizations, with Treasury Department approval, send money to Cuban churches and other non-government groups. Until now, only donations of goods have been approved.

Cuba’s Roman Catholic Church had no immediate reaction.

Under the proposed rules, any American could send money to Cuba, not just relatives of Cubans. The $500 million to $800 million sent by Cubans in the United States are already Cuba’s largest net source of foreign exchange.

Another measure would allow charter flights to cities other than Havana and from cities other than Miami. Food and farm equipment could be sold to nongovernment groups _ though it was unclear who, other than church aid groups, might be able to afford it.

The requirements for scholars and athletes to visit Cuba would be streamlined. There also would be direct mail service, if Cuba agrees. That would dramatically cut the month or so needed to send a letter.

``There are things that cause Cuban families to be separated a lot,″ Margarita Sanchez, 35, said at a Havana post office, clutching a postcard for a distant relative in the United States.

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