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Two Cuban Boxers Released from Immigration Center

July 4, 1996

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ One of two Cuban boxers seeking political asylum here said he abandoned Cuba’s Olympic team because a victory at the Summer Games would really be a win for the country’s communist leader, Fidel Castro.

``Fidel keeps the gold medals and they don’t get anything in return,″ said Mark Cardoso, one of the athletes’ attorneys, who translated for them hours after they were granted parole by immigration authorities Wednesday.

Looking relieved but tired, Ramon Garbey and Joel Casamayor were released into the care of their attorneys at the El Centro Immigration Processing Center.

``We needed our freedom,″ said Garbey, moments after being released and asked why they left Cuba. ``I felt very pressured there.″

Immigration authorities in San Diego released the men late Wednesday afternoon. They will probably remain in Southern California while their applications for political asylum are reviewed.

``It means we’re only halfway home. We still have more to do in court,″ said immigration attorney Frank Ronzio. ``They’re only concerned with leaving Fidel Castro.″

Garbey, 25, and Casamayor, 24, had been at the immigration processing center, 115 miles east of San Diego, since Sunday night, shortly after they appeared at the San Ysidro port of entry seeking asylum.

The boxers deserted their teammates during a training camp in Guadalajara, Mexico. Both said they feared persecution because they refused to support Cuba’s communist government.

Garbey had served a three-month jail sentence in Cuba several years ago for refusing to join a neighborhood patrol. His brother, also a boxer, is serving a 15-year jail term for refusing to become an active member of the Caribbean island’s communist movement, according to Al Rogers, a spokesman for the fighters’ attorneys.

Ronzio said he heard that the boxers wanted to defect three days before they slipped away from the training camp. He said the boxers left the camp and were hidden before being transported to Tijuana, where they met with him in a motel. Ronzio interviewed them there and then accompanied them through the border crossing at San Ysidro.

``They had a campaign against him in which they were threatening him,″ Cardoso said, referring to Casamayor at a Wednesday evening news conference near Los Angeles International Airport. ``They would take his food away from him and would pay him very little. The ones who were Communist got a car and a house.″

The men were considered strong contenders for gold medals. Cuba won seven golds in the 1992 Olympics, including one by Casamayor, who has fought at 125 pounds. Garbey was the 1993 world champion at 178 pounds.

``They very easily could have won the gold and then defected, but they chose not to fight Castro’s war,″ said Rogers.

The boxers have no family in the United States and they do not speak English.

Casamayor, who comes from Guantanamo, left behind his 8-year-old daughter and her mother. Casamayor and the woman have been separated for some time, Rogers said.

Garbey, who is unmarried, left a son on the Caribbean island.

``He knows there could be problems with his family, but that’s a chance he’ll have to take,″ Cardoso said of Garbey.

More than 40 athletes and officials from Cuba’s delegation defected during the 1993 Central American and Caribbean Games in Puerto Rico.

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