The Miami Herald
June 21, 2000

Jailed Cuban doctors urge families "not to worry"

 Conditions worsen as prisoners are moved to undisclosed cells


 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
 harsh conditions.

 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 with their
 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 pretrial prisoners
 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
 new prison.

 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 of prepared

 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 Remand
 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.