Los Angeles Daily News
Sept. 22, 2004

Maradona arrives in Cuba

By Associated Press

Wednesday, September 22, 2004 - HAVANA (AP) -- Former soccer great Diego Maradona returned to Cuba on Monday to resume treatment for cocaine addiction after a relapse confined him to a psychiatric hospital in his native Argentina and sparked unsuccessful attempts by his family to keep him at home.

Maradona, 43, was greeted by dozens of journalists after arriving here on a commercial flight following a stopover in Panama on the trip from Buenos Aires.

Dressed in blue slacks, a cotton shirt in pastel stripes and tennis shoes, Maradona declined to address reporters, greeting them only with a hasty "good night" before he smiled and left.

Argentina Ambassador Raul Taleb earlier told reporters that Maradona would spend his first night at Havana's Center for Surgical Medical Investigations, a prestigious hospital known by its Spanish acronym as CIMEQ. There, he was to undergo a general medical checkup before starting drug treatment at another facility.

Maradona's return to Cuba capped a weekslong drama in Argentina that played out in nationally broadcast TV interviews and court battles with his relatives over how and where to continue his treatment.

He even appealed last month to Argentina President Nestor Kirchner to help him leave the country.

Maradona has been repeatedly hospitalized over the last four years, most recently in April when doctors said he was suffering from a weakened heart and severe breathing problems.

Since then, Maradona has received treatment in a Buenos Aires psychiatric hospital, where he had been held under strict orders by his doctors and family before being released earlier this month.

An admitted cocaine addict and 1986 World Cup hero, Maradona had been barred from leaving Argentina after family members initially blocked his early efforts to return to Cuba. He has said he prefers treatment in Cuba because of greater privacy.

In Cuba, Maradona is to stay in the National Center for Mental Health, a sprawling complex of individual houses with red-tile roofs in a quiet, palm-tree lined area of western Havana where his movements will be restricted.

The center is in the same neighborhood where President Fidel Castro, who has characterized himself as a friend and admirer of Maradona, is said to live.

While undergoing treatment in Cuba in the past, Maradona stayed at the upscale La Pradera health tourism resort, where he could come and go as he pleased and invite people to his guest house.

But Maradona was not expected to receive any special privileges in Cuba this time around. He could be returned to Argentina - and even lose his property there - if he fails to follow the court-ordered treatment plan.

Taleb, Argentina's ambassador to Cuba, said Maradona's doctors hope Castro himself can play a tough paternal role to help the former soccer great finally cure his drug addiction.

Castro has not publicly commented on Maradona since a federal judge in Buenos Aires ruled that Maradona could return to Cuba earlier this month, but in early July he said he hoped the Argentine would be back.

Maradona, who bears a tattoo of Castro's face on one leg, professed his admiration for Cuba and the island's leader in a weekend TV interview, suggesting his desire to return was not just medically related.

Maradona led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup title and 1990 final before retiring in 1997. In 2000, FIFA chose him and Pele as the greatest players in history.