Astros face new restrictions scouting in Venezuela

JUPITER, Fla. -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Friday that the club is working with Major League Baseball about how to respond to the new visa restrictions for U.S. citizens traveling to Venezuela after the team had a scout turned away in the South American country earlier this week.

On Friday, Major League Baseball issued a memo informing all clubs of the new travel guidelines to Venezuela that now require U.S. citizens to apply for and obtain a visa to enter the country. As stated in the memo, the Venezuelan Embassy Web site advises that U.S. citizens traveling to Venezuela apply for a visa three months before travel. Previously, U.S. citizens were exempt from any visa requirement.

"Our scouts have had easy access to Venezuela, no problem getting in," Luhnow said. "I, myself, have been down there a dozen times. With these new rules, nobody knows how quickly they're going to be enforced or exactly what it means to get a visa, how long it takes, who's going to get it, who's not going to get it. There's a lot of unanswered questions.

"We did have an American scout go down there and was turned away a few days ago. As the organization that has signed the most players from Venezuela and have made it to the big leagues, we continue to have a strong desire to scout in Venezuela and to sign players in Venezuela."

The Astros were once trailblazers in signing players from Venezuela, but closed their academy there in 2008 for political reasons. Among the players the team has signed from the country are Freddy Garcia, Johan Santana, Bobby Abreu, Carlos Guillen, Richard Hidalgo and Jose Altuve.

Clubs were also informed that at least one airline flying into Venezuela has announced it will deny boarding to anyone who does not possess the appropriate visa. The memo advised caution when traveling to and from Venezuela, along with the avoidance of political demonstration and discussion on political subjects. Furthermore, the memo advised the heeding of U.S. State Department warnings on the prevalence of kidnapping and other violent crimes in the country.

"We're not going to stop pursuing players from Venezuela," Luhnow said. "We're hopeful the government will work with baseball and figure out a way to make it as easy as possible. It's a temporary setback, but it's figuring out what the rules are, and we'll follow the rules."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.