By Luc Cohen and Mayela Armas
CARACAS (Reuters) – Players affiliated with Major League Baseball (MLB) will participate in Venezuela’s upcoming playoffs, the country’s baseball league said, after receiving an exemption from U.S. sanctions meant to force out socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
In August, MLB barred major and minor league players from participating in the local LVBP league pending authorization from the U.S. government. The U.S. Treasury Department granted a license to the sanctions allowing U.S. individuals to conduct transactions with the LVBP earlier in December.
“The LVBP board of directors announced that players affiliated with MLB’s system are approved to participate in January,” the league said in a statement posted on its website late on Tuesday.
Baseball is wildly popular in the South American country. Major league teams often recruit star Venezuelan players, who then work their way up through the minor league systems. They frequently return home to play in the LVBP during the MLB off-season, but this year’s season began late and attendance has dropped due to the absence of high-level players.
Washington’s sanctions on Venezuela have not succeeded in ousting Maduro. MLB’s decision to bar players was the most high-profile example of how the sanctions prompted American companies to stop doing business with private Venezuelan entities that were not explicitly sanctioned.
After receiving the sanctions exemption last month, MLB sent its member clubs a notice saying players could play for six of the eight teams. Two teams, the Tigres de Aragua and Navegantes de Magallanes, were excluded from Treasury’s sanctions exemption, without explanation.
The league was trying to secure sanctions exemptions for Tigres and Navegantes as well, according to a source close to the LVBP who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The LVBP’s regular season has ended, but six teams – including Navegantes de Magallanes – will advance to the playoffs, which begin this month.
(Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Editing by David Gregorio)