The Miami Herald
February 8, 2000
Cuban doctors who helped in Venezuelan disaster seek political asylum

 CARACAS, Venezuela -- (AP) -- Two Cuban doctors who came to Venezuela to
 help in relief efforts after deadly landslides have requested political asylum,
 officials said Monday.

 The doctors arrived in Venezuela in mid-December as part of a team of 100
 Cubans who treated victims of landslides that officials estimated left between
 5,000 and 30,000 people dead.

 Many of the Cubans have stayed on to continue providing health care in the worst
 hit part of the disaster zone along Venezuela's northern Caribbean coast.

 The two doctors, Heberto Navarro, 38, and Reinaldo Calebrook, 35, spoke at a
 press conference Monday and said they wanted to emigrate to improve their
 standard of living. They also praised the political freedoms Venezuelans enjoy.

 Navarro said the $25 a month he earned in Cuba wasn't enough to support his five

 The two doctors said several other Cuban doctors also were planning to request
 political asylum, but had not formally done so.

 The doctors' request to remain in Venezuela presents a dilemma for President
 Hugo Chavez, who is close friends with Cuban leader Fidel Castro and often
 praises Castro's communist revolution.

 Granting the doctors political asylum would in effect be recognizing that there is
 political repression in Cuba. But returning them to the island could also subject
 them to harassment or imprisonment, since they criticized the Castro regime in

 Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jose Vicente Rangel told The Associated Press that
 Chavez's friendship with Castro would not affect a decision on the doctors'
 request, which he said would be handled according to established procedure.

 The doctors' request also was likely to prove embarrassing for Cuba. Instead of
 trying to export revolution throughout the Third World the way it did in recent
 decades, Cuba has taken to sending doctors and teachers overseas to
 demonstrate what Cuban officials say are the revolution's achievements in health
 care and education.

                     Copyright 2000 Miami Herald