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Long-time Cuban Boxing Trainer Defects Because He Fears Reprisals

July 31, 1996

MIAMI (AP) _ A Cuban boxing trainer who criticized the training methods in his country has defected, saying Tuesday he was afraid the government might punish him for his opinions.

Mariano Leyva, a 13-year veteran of the Cuban national boxing team, surfaced in Miami after disappearing from the Atlanta Olympics on Saturday.

He is the fourth Cuban to defect during this Olympic year, and the first during the games.

``I was supposed to return to Cuba after the Olympic Games and I had certain problems back home so I decided I had to stay for my freedom,″ Leyva said at a news conference. ``I was afraid they would try to squash me. Take away my job.″

Leyva had been under contract to help train the Mexican boxing team, and said he never intended to defect. But he learned Cuban officials were unhappy with his criticism of Cuban training methods, and feared he would be punished when he returned home.

Leyva had accused other trainers of pushing Cuban boxers too hard and putting them in weight classes he didn’t think they should fight in.

``He thought they were not looking after the best interests of the fighters and he voiced his concerns,″ said Alberto Lense, his Miami attorney. ``And they were not very happy about him stating this.″

Leyva’s supervisor, a member of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, was upset with Leyva’s statements, Lense said. A friend also told Leyva he was being watched by Cuban security agents, and that party officials were keeping tabs on him.

Leyva was hit by another Cuban trainer at a sparring match between Mexicans and Cubans before the Olympics, and Leyva now thinks he was being baited into a fight.

``He was afraid to be denounced and jailed,″ Lense said.

Leyva contacted some friends in Miami and arranged to meet them Saturday at a bank building in Atlanta. They then drove to Miami.

Leyva’s wife of 23 years and four children were left behind in Cuba. When asked about his family, an already nervous Leyva choked back tears. He later broke down briefly.

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

It is not clear what Leyva will do now, but he is likely headed to the U.S. professional circuit, probably with Team Freedom _ a club of former Cuban boxers.

Prior to the Olympics, two members of Cuba’s national boxing team defected. Ramon Garbey, a 175-pound light heavyweight, and Joel Casamyor, a 119-pound bantamweight, fled to the United States in June from a Cuban training camp in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Both said they feared persecution because they refused to support Cuba’s communist government.

Rolando Arrojo, Cuba’s top baseball pitcher, defected last month and is in Miami while his immigration status is resolved. His agent, Joe Cubas, has said Arrojo would like to play in the major leagues.

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