The Miami Herald
September 21, 2000

Defectors rip Cuban health care

 States News Service

 WASHINGTON -- Two Cuban doctors who defected from their country earlier this
 year while on a medical mission in Zimbabwe said the United States should allow
 Cuban doctors to come to the United States on similar missions as a way for
 them to seek political asylum.

 The remarks were made at the first of several Senate Foreign Relations hearings
 titled ``Fidel Castro -- Kidnapper.'' Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., committee
 chairman and a long-time critic of Fidel Castro, said the intent of the hearings was
 to ``remind anyone with a short memory who Fidel Castro really is.''

 Helms, who was joined by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, asked Leonel
 Córdova Rodríguez, a general practitioner, and Noris Peña Martínez, a dentist,
 what they think would happen if a group of several hundred doctors were sent to
 the United States on a medical mission.

 At a news conference in Washington last week, visiting Cuban lawmakers
 proposed sending Cuban doctors to poor areas of the United States, particularly
 Mississippi. Both Córdova and Peña said such a program would result in most of
 the participants applying for political asylum in the United States.

 ``You should allow them to come to see what could happen,'' Córdova said. ``The
 vast majority are going to belong to the Communist party. Once people are out of
 Cuba, they will do something to stay here.''

 Rodríguez and Peña said they had planned to leave Cuba permanently while on
 the Zimbabwe mission because of Cuba's declining health care system and the
 adverse training conditions of Cuban medical students. Medicine and health care
 services are reserved for Cuba's elite or foreign travelers and only foreign students
 receive proper medical training, the doctors said.

 They added that young Cubans feel they have been deceived by the Castro
 regime and they fear what to do about their future.

 ``There's a consensus that Fidel is not what the country needs or wants and that
 we've been manipulated,'' Rodríguez said. ``That's one of the reasons we need to
 speak and let people know what's happening in Cuba.''

 The doctors, along with 107 others, were sent to Zimbabwe in March under a
 Cuban ``doctor diplomacy'' program. A surveillance group from Castro's
 administration accompanied the doctors, according to the doctors. After about a
 month in Zimbabwe, the two doctors spoke out against the Castro regime in a
 newspaper there and decided to not return to Cuba.

 They eventually gained political asylum from the United States and have been
 living in Miami since Aug. 7.