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Cuban Boxing Trainer Defects, Surfaces in Miami

July 30, 1996

MIAMI (AP) _ A longtime boxing trainer for the Cuban national team who abandoned the Olympics surfaced here Tuesday, saying he feared reprisals from the Cuban government and would seek political asylum.

Mariano Leyva choked back tears as he told reporters his wife of 23 years and four children remain in Cuba, where he has had run-ins with trainers over how hard Cuban fighters are pushed.

Leyva was contracted out by Cuba’s government to coach Mexico’s Olympic boxers. On Saturday, the 13-year veteran of his homeland’s national boxing team left Atlanta, with the help of friends from Miami.

``I don’t come to this country for material things,″ Leyva said. ``I come here for spiritual reasons.″

He said he didn’t plan on defecting, but did so because of a conflict with a Communist party official.

Leyva feared reprisals upon his return after the Olympics.

``I had certain problems back home so I decided I had to stay for my freedom,″ said Leyva, who appeared nervous during the news conference.

His troubles began with his vocal opposition to Cuban boxers being pushed too hard by other trainers and into weight categories he thought they should not be fighting in.

Leyva said his supervisor _ a member of the Cuban Central Committee _ was out to get him because of his opposition to Cuban training methods.

``He thought they were not looking after the best interests of the fighters ... and they were not very happy about him stating this,″ Leyva’s lawyer, Alberto Lense, said.

During a pre-Olympic sparring match between Mexicans and Cubans, a Cuban trainer hit Leyva, Lense said. Leyva thinks he was baited into a fight.

A friend told Leyva he was being watched by Cuban security agents and that party officials were keeping tabs on him. ``I was afraid they would try to squash me. Take away my job,″ Leyva said.

Once Leyva decided to defect, he set up a rendezvous with friends on Saturday at an Atlanta bank building. They drove to Miami.

He is the fourth Cuban to defect during this Olympic season and the first to defect during the games. He and the others are likely headed into the U.S. pro circuit, probably with Team Freedom _ a club of former Cuban boxers.

Cuba’s top pitcher, Rolando Arrojo, defected last month to Miami, where he is trying to stay in shape while his immigration status is resolved and his agent tries to help get him into the major leagues.

Cuban boxers Ramon Garbey and Joel Casamyor deserted teammates during training in Mexico and crossed into California. Both said they feared persecution for refusing to support Cuba’s communist government.

Update hourly