Cuba game appears set; O's trip to Havana agreed to, but no deal yet on rematch here

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON -- Cuba has agreed to an exhibition game in Havana on March 28 between a Cuban national team and the Orioles, according to sources close to the discussions.

But no deal has been struck yet on a second game at Camden Yards in early April, and some sources cautioned that the whole package might still fall apart.

The Orioles were reported to be pleased with Cuba's agreement to one game, but still want to schedule the second game in Baltimore.

The progress on at least one game was reported yesterday by several sources in Washington and Baltimore, including a government official, as time was running out to schedule the exhibition games before Opening Day, April 5.

The complicated negotiations require agreement from not only the Orioles and the Cuban government, but also Major League Baseball, the players' union and the Clinton administration, which must approve a license for the Orioles to travel to Cuba.

A spokesman for the National Security Council, David Leavy, said it would be "premature" to report that an agreement had been reached.

A spokesman for the Cuban interest section in Washington, Luis Fernandez, declined to comment: "At this moment, I cannot confirm and I cannot deny," he said. Orioles owner Peter Angelos did not return calls yesterday.

The plans have been stalled for a month over the question of what to do with any profits that might come from the games.

The State Department had insisted that they be used to benefit the Cuban people and not the Fidel Castro regime. The Cubans, in turn, proposed that the proceeds go to Cuban doctors helping the victims of Hurricane Mitch.

Sources said this week that the question of proceeds was becoming less important since the sums involved were too small to argue about. But there was general agreement that the Havana game would yield little or no profit.

One U.S. government official said the Cubans agreed to the Havana game as a way of maintaining momentum in the process while the talks continued over the game in Baltimore.

Two sources said they understood that the Clinton administration was prepared to move forward with a license for the Orioles to travel to Havana even if there were only agreement on a single game. Leavy would not confirm this, however.

Efforts to win agreement on the games have come against a backdrop of a mounting criticism in the United States over a Cuban crackdown on dissidents. The crackdown has been spotlighted by congressional opponents of the Castro regime, who have also been lobbying against the exhibition games.

The administration opened the way for the games in early January. At the same time, it announced a series of steps to increase unofficial contact between Americans and Cubans.

Other steps included allowing more people to send money to Cubans, opening direct mail service, permitting the sale of food to independent organizations and sales of fertilizers and pesticides to private farmers and cooperatives.

Except for the possible Orioles exhibition game, the administration's initiative drew a negative reaction from Havana.

Pub Date: 3/05/99

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