An American scout for the Houston Astros was denied entry to Venezuela this week because of new mandates in the country that require all American visitors to have a visa, according to the Houston Chronicle on Friday.
The Astros have long been involved in bringing Venezuelan talent to the United States, and Houston was the first team to build an academy in the country. General manager Jeff Luhnow said that since the scout's trip was planned prior to the announcement of the new visa requirement, it was not clear if an exception would be made.
"He went down there, we didn't know anything about how to apply for a visa or what the process was, it hasn't been spelled out," Luhnow said. "We figured maybe there was a window where [entry could be granted]. It did seem like they were selectively enforcing this."
Houston became the first major league team to open an academy in Venezuela in 1989, though it was shuttered in 2009. The team has developed a number of stars from the South American country, including Johan Santana, Bobby Abreu, Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and Jose Altuve, the defending league batting champion.
Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro said the new visa requirement was for security reasons, aimed at deterring spying and other "gringo" meddling. According to Luhnow, the new restrictions have made it unclear what will be required to get a visa or how long the process will take.
Despite that uncertainty, Luhnow was confident that major league baseball would retain access to the country. "I believe our interests are aligned to get as many Venezuelan players to the big leagues as possible. Temporary setback, but it's just a matter of figuring out what the rules are ... I'm certain that they're going to allow us access to scouting down there."
Declining oil prices and political strife have increased insecurity and economic hardship in Venezuela over the last year. Since 2006, nine of the 13 major league teams that operate academies in the country have closed their facilities.