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Unrest in Venezuela threatens Caribbean Series

MLB.com @JesseSanchezMLB

The 2019 Caribbean Series in Venezuela is in jeopardy of being canceled because of political and civil unrest and advisories by the U.S government and Major League Baseball to avoid travel to the country.

This year's version of the championship tournament between the winter league champions from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Venezuela was scheduled for Feb. 2-8 in the Venezuelan city of Barquisimeto, but organizers are considering canceling or relocating the event to another country in the wake of the violent protests, as Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido each lay claim to power. The U.S. State Department has advised U.S. citizens to reconsider travel to Venezuela and "ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and family members."

The 2019 Caribbean Series in Venezuela is in jeopardy of being canceled because of political and civil unrest and advisories by the U.S government and Major League Baseball to avoid travel to the country.

This year's version of the championship tournament between the winter league champions from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Venezuela was scheduled for Feb. 2-8 in the Venezuelan city of Barquisimeto, but organizers are considering canceling or relocating the event to another country in the wake of the violent protests, as Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido each lay claim to power. The U.S. State Department has advised U.S. citizens to reconsider travel to Venezuela and "ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and family members."

Major League Baseball is also monitoring the situation.

"The Commissioner's Office is actively seeking the advice on the political, legal and safety implications of this still-developing situation, and we will inform clubs of any effects as soon as they become clear," MLB said in a statement on Thursday. "In the meantime, we advise club personnel in the strongest terms to immediately cease travel to Venezuela for any reasons."

Venezuela plays an important role in baseball. All MLB teams scout in the country. The Astros, Rays, Phillies, Rockies, Cubs and Tigers have a strong presence on the ground there. What's more, there were 74 players from Venezuela on Opening Day rosters last season, and close to 300 amateur players from the country have signed with Major League teams since the international signing period began July 2.

The Venezuelan Winter League also provides valuable on-the-job training for Minor League and Major League players. The Caribbean Series offers scouts a chance to evaluate players in game action and sign them before Spring Training.

On Thursday, the leagues, known collectively as the Caribbean Confederation, met for almost two hours to determine the tournament's fate, with the members agreeing to a 24-hour window to find another location for the tournament or canceling it altogether. On Friday afternoon, the Confederation announced it was still considering all options.

The tournament, which has included Cuba as a special guest since 2014, was scheduled for Venezuela last year, but the tournament was moved to Mexico because of the country's problems. Venezuela, which has won seven titles, last played host to a Caribbean Series in 2014 and 2010 on Isla Margarita, an island off the mainland.

If canceled, it would mark the first time the annual tournament would not be played since 1981, when a strike by Venezuelan players halted action. Next year's Caribbean Series is tentatively scheduled to be played in Puerto Rico, the winner of the last two titles.

Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.