The Miami Herald
August 14, 2000

Castro marks his 74th birthday

 Associated Press

 HAVANA -- A politically recharged President Fidel Castro marked his 74th
 birthday Sunday, addressing a graduating class of health care workers and
 making a veiled reference to the recent defection to the United States of two
 medical workers who had been assigned to Zimbabwe.

 ``These Cuban health care workers will leave an indelible imprint as they travel
 around the world, providing their services and sowing medical schools in other
 lands,'' Castro said at the ceremony.

 ``Today, it gives us immense satisfaction to take part in the graduation of 4,000
 new members of the glorious contingent of professionals who bring such honor to
 the homeland.''

 The two Cuban medical workers who defected, Leonel Córdova Rodríguez, 31,
 and Noris Peña Martínez, 25 -- were granted U.S. refugee status and flew to
 Miami last week.

 In the process of seeking asylum, they said, they were kidnapped by
 Zimbabwean security officers, who helped Cuban diplomats force them onto a
 flight to Havana. Air France refused to let them board during a stopover in South
 Africa after the doctors slipped a note to a crew member saying they were kidnap

 At the time, Cuba denied any involvement in the alleged kidnapping.

 Without referring specifically to that case on Sunday, Castro criticized
 ``imperialist'' nations that ``offer money and make all kinds of promises to our
 doctors, hoping to bribe them into defection and treason, heedless of the lives
 that would be lost as a result.''

 Other than greetings delivered to Castro by several speakers at the graduation,
 there was no public birthday celebration Sunday.