Jailed Cuban doctors urge families "not to worry"
Conditions worsen as prisoners are moved to undisclosed cells
BY SANDRA MARQUEZ GARCIA
HARARE, Zimbabwe -- In their first public statement since they
managed to slip a
desperate plea for help into the hand of an airline employee, the two Cuban
doctors jailed in Zimbabwe wrote Tuesday to their families, telling them they loved
them and urging them ``not to worry for us.''
The note -- scrawled on a piece of plain stationary -- was handed
to a visitor at the
prison where the doctors are being held under what appear to be increasingly
It was written by Leonel Córdova Rodríguez, 31,
and signed on behalf of himself
and Noris Peña Martínez, 25.
``We are fine, do not worry for us,'' the note states. ``We love
you and we miss
But even though the message sounded confident, a diplomat familiar
situation said Córdova and Peñas mental state has deteriorated after being moved
to an undisclosed detention center where officials have said the pair deserve to be
treated just like other prisoners.
At the Goromonzi Remand Center -- a rural police outpost where
are held on the outskirts of the capital -- the two were housed in individual prison
cells and did not mingle with other prisoners, but this will probably change in their
For the last four days, the jailed doctors have not been allowed
to bathe or brush
their teeth. They are only allowed two 15-minute breaks from their cell.
UNHCR officials have tried to lift the doctors' spirits with deliveries
In the note handed to his visitor, Córdova included a personal
message for his
wife, Rosalba, who was ordered to move out of the familys home in Cuba with
their three children after his defection.
``To Rosy, trust in me and do not let yourself be manipulated,'' Córdova wrote.
A part of the note addressed to Peñas parents said: ``I
love you with my life. God
is with us. Soon you will have news.''
Until recently, the two Cuban doctors were being held at the Goromonzi
Center. A spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said that they
had been transferred to another facility. But the diplomat following their case said
their situation seems to have deteriorated at their new detention center.
Diplomats are continuing to work for the Cuban doctors' release,
but the matter is
thought to rest in the hands of President Robert Mugabe and it remains unclear
when he will resolve their case.
A directive by Cuban President Fidel Castro, urging Mugabe, a
long-time ally, not
to allow the doctors to travel to the United States appears to have held up their
The two doctors arrived in Zimbabwe in March as part of a contingent
of some 150
Cuban medical professionals on a ``doctor diplomacy'' mission to revive the
countrys ailing health-care system. They were seized and nearly deported back
to Cuba on June 2, but an Air France crew in Johannesburg, South Africa, refused
to board the frantic doctors after they slipped a note to a steward claiming they
were being kidnapped.