President Obama’s historic trip to Cuba later this month will include some baseball diplomacy, the White House said Tuesday.
The president will attend a March 22 exhibition baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team during his brief trip to the island nation. The restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba and the reopening of the U.S. Embassy after more than 50 years has been touted by the White House as a key part of Obama’s foreign-policy legacy.
“Charting new #CubaPolicy means stronger ties between Cubans & Americans - we all share a love of baseball,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, tweeted Tuesday evening.
The White House announced last month that Obama would visit Cuba prior to his trip to Argentina this month. The Cuba trip comes eight months after the United States reopened its embassy in Havana and reflects Obama’s stance that the United States’ long-held policy of isolating the Cuban regime has failed to bring about political change.
The trip carries some risks. Although the Cuban government has opened up Internet connectivity and allowed more private enterprise, there has been little progress on political freedom in the past year, and the number of dissidents being detained in Cuba has steadily increased of late.
The president’s bet is that economic and cultural ties with the United States will increase pressure on the Cuban regime, led by President Raúl Castro, to pursue political reforms. The baseball game is a piece of that plan.
The game, though, is far from a first. In 1999, the Baltimore Orioles went to Havana for the first game between a U.S. professional baseball club and the Cuban squad since shortly after Fidel Castro seized power in 1959.
Fans at the game did the wave and chanted “Fidel! Fidel!” as the then-Cuban leader strode onto the field to greet the Orioles players.