Defecting Cuban doctors in Miami for a new start
BY CHRIS GAITHER AND SANDRA MARQUEZ GARCIA
Noris Peña Martínez and Leonel Córdova Rodríguez
walked off a jet from New
York City on Monday night -- and stepped into a new life as members of Miami's
Cuban exile community.
Looking exuberant after their 20-hour journey from Sweden, the
medical workers who were abducted and jailed after requesting political asylum in
Zimbabwe said imagining their arrival in Miami had kept them going during 32
days in confinement.
``It was very exhausting but very exciting, too,'' Córdova
said of the journey.
Asked about their immediate plans, he said: ``Not only to have this moment to
enjoy but to have liberty for Cuba. We have to work for that.''
Peña stepped off the plane dressed in a black jacket and
red bell-bottom pants.
``As a product of the new generations coming out of Cuba, and as a doctor or
professional, I felt like a slave of the Cuban state. I have defected, seeking
freedom, just as the majority of the young professionals in Cuba would like to
enjoy in a free and democratic Cuba.''
Well-wishers, including relatives, friends and strangers, packed
an arrivals hall at
Miami International Airport to extend a heroes' welcome to the two medical
workers. The crowd carried bouquets of red roses, Cuban flags and a sign reading
Exiles sang the Cuban national anthem during the emotional gathering,
the knowledge that the two defied an ultimatum by Fidel Castro. The Cuban
president had attempted to steer the two medical workers anywhere but the
Fidel Ferreiro, 24, a childhood pal of Peña's from her
hometown in Camagüey,
Cuba, recalls dancing with her at her 15th birthday party and studying with her
most nights from grade school to high school.
``I can't believe that we will be together again after so long
and everything that she
has been through,'' Ferreiro said.
Alfredo Hevia, 31, and his wife defected from the Cuban medical
mission in South
Africa a year ago. Hevia attended medical school with Córdova.
``He has achieved something that he wanted,'' Hevia said. ``He
was at great risk
of losing his life. I know Africa, and I understand the risk of being woken up by
night with a machine gun.''
One person absent from the arrival hall was U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen,
R-Miami, who led the effort in Washington to admit the two doctors to the United
In a telephone call from West Virginia, where she is on a camping
trip with her
family, Ros-Lehtinen said her office has two goals to continue helping the doctors.
``First is legalizing their immigration status so they are able
to become residents
quickly and then U.S. citizens if they so desire,'' she said. ``And secondly is to
get them certified so they are able to practice medicine in Florida.''
Associated Press writer Patrick Reyna contributed to this report.