The Miami Herald
August 8, 2000

 Defecting Cuban doctors in Miami for a new start


 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 two Cuban
 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
 ``Welcome Doctors.''

 Exiles sang the Cuban national anthem during the emotional gathering, reveling in
 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
 United States.

 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.