The Star (Malaysia)
September 22, 2004

Overweight Maradona back in Cuba for drug rehabilitation

HAVANA: Former Argentina captain Diego Maradona arrived in Cuba late on Monday in another effort to kick his 20-year cocaine addiction and regain his health.

A grinning but seriously overweight Maradona gave the thumbs up to European tourists as he slowly made his way through the airport but he frowned at reporters and refused to talk to them before being whisked away into the night.

The 43-year-old, one of the most gifted players in the history of soccer, was accompanied on the flight from Argentina by his personal doctor Alfredo Cahe and his two sisters, among others.

Maradona, who led Argentina to victory at the 1986 World Cup, will be treated at the Cuban Interior Ministry's Centre for Mental Health (CENSAM).

For almost four years Maradona, who says he has been fighting drug addiction for much of the last 20 years, lived at Havana's La Pradera health farm, where he partied with friends while playing golf almost daily.

At CENSAM'S enclosed compound, he is expected to undergo stricter treatment.

In April, he was rushed into intensive care with heart problems. His family then forced him to enter a psychiatric clinic outside Buenos Aires for drug rehabilitation.

Once a judge ruled last week that Maradona could leave Argentina, a minor respiratory illness delayed his departure to Cuba. He says the island offers him respite from the media and fan frenzy in Europe and South America.

Maradona is a fan of Cuban President Fidel Castro, a likeness of whom he has tattooed on his leg. The two men first met in 1994.

The former Argentina captain first underwent drug treatment in Cuba after suffering a similar life-threatening health crisis while on holiday in Uruguay in 2000.

The Cuban government says it is ready to do all it can to help Maradona and is expected to pay for his treatment. Reuters