U.S. grants last minute visas to Cuban baseball team

·1 min read
FILE PHOTO: Players of the Cuba's national baseball team wait to enter the U.S. Embassy in Havana

HAVANA (Reuters) - The Cuban Baseball Federation said on Tuesday the United States had granted it visas to participate in a qualifying tournament for the Tokyo Olympics that opens next week in Florida.

The federation said it hoped to travel to Florida on Wednesday to play two preparatory games before the tournament opens on Monday and thanked world and U.S. baseball organizations and Olympic committees for their support.

The U.S. embassy in Havana suspended consular services three years ago when the Trump administration reduced it to skeletal staffing, sending applicants to embassies abroad instead, one of a series of actions reversing an Obama-era detente that the administration of Joe Biden has yet to address.

That has proven a major obstacle to Cubans applying for visas to see family or visit the United States, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.

Washington made an exception and allowed the team to apply last week in Havana.

Cuban baseball fans had been worried their team might not receive the visas and the government had protested the delay.

Cuba's baseball team won the gold medal at the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992, Atlanta in 1996 and Athens in 2004. Baseball has not been featured at the Olympics since the Beijing Games in 2008, when Cuba took silver.

(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)