MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
OK. Major League Baseball has an immigration problem. Cuban players who want to play in the MLB have to defect, which can lead the players into the hands of human smugglers. Major League Baseball sought help from the White House and President Trump, asking him to revive an agreement that would let Cubans play in the U.S. and safely return home. Well, President Trump wanted something in return, something big. To tell us what it is, we're joined by NPR's Franco Ordoñez . Franco, welcome to the studio.
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: It's great to be here.
KELLY: All right. Before we get to that something big, I'm going to back into this. I'm going to ask first why did the MLB need the president's help?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, I mean, the league has been concerned for quite a while about some of the steps that Cuban baseball players take risking their lives to play baseball in the United States. If they don't take to the seas, many pay to have someone smuggle them out of the country. Some players and their families continue to be harassed by these smuggling rings long after they left.
KELLY: But what's the president's role here?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, the president wants a solution. The president is concerned about human smuggling, but he also has other concerns. He wants this issue addressed. He's also concerned about Venezuela. And Venezuela is an issue that has been a top priority of his foreign policy for a while. And he feels that Cuba has a big role in Venezuela. And he's looking for MLB's help addressing Venezuela.
KELLY: OK. And I understand this all came to a head. There was a meeting. Trump agreed to meet with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. What happened there?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, the two met. They agreed that human smuggling was an issue that was important to them. But also President Trump told them that, hey, we also need your help on Venezuela. And what that means is they want MLB to use its leverage with Cuba to try to get them to pull out of Venezuela, to kind of remove the influence. Trump has long blamed Cuba for propping up Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. And they want to take whatever steps they can to stop that, and that includes pushing MLB but also other entities with interests in Cuba.
KELLY: So let me make sure I've got this straight. This is the president, the White House, the Trump administration, pushing the MLB to push Cuba to exert leverage in Venezuela.
ORDOÑEZ: That's exactly right. It's a big ask.
KELLY: It is a big ask. I guess nothing else has toppled Maduro. Bring in the MLB. Why not? What are the chances this actually happens?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, it is such a huge ask. I mean, look; both sides have big political implications, but the reality is much of Venezuela and Cuba, their political identities are wrapped up together. And, frankly, they see themselves as the little guy fighting against the big guy, the United States, the imperialist to the north. And really, Cuba is not going to turn on essentially one of their best friends to help the United States, who has been an adversary for decades.
KELLY: You are our newest White House correspondent, not a sports correspondent, but do you have any idea how this is playing in the league, what the players think of this?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, I can definitely tell you that from the players that - who I've heard through - from through different channels, they are very concerned about this, particularly the Cuban baseball players who finally thought that maybe there was a solution to this. Many of those Cuban baseball players say that their families, as I said, still are being harassed by these human smuggling rings.
KELLY: A lot to keep track of and watch there. Thanks for your reporting. That's NPR White House correspondent FrancoOrdoñez - nice to see you.
ORDOÑEZ: My pleasure.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.