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Cubans Say 32 Have Defected During Regional Athletic Championships With AM-Cuba-Last Game

November 28, 1993

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ Some 32 Cubans have defected in the past week during regional athletic championships here, Cuban delegation members said Saturday.

The figure includes at least 11 who left the 931-member Cuban delegation Saturday. The Central American and Caribbean Games began Nov. 19 and conclude Tuesday.

Gold medalists Lino Elias Ocana and Emilio Lara Rodriguez, both weightlifters, were among the Saturday defectors, according to a Cuban exile group helping house them.

The group, Rescue Legion, said the new defectors planned to apply for U.S. political asylum Monday. Eleven Cubans had applied by Friday afternoon.

The defections show the desire to leave the economic crises and political repression at home is strong even among some members of Cuba’s political, athletic and academic elite.

They also reflect the ease in which Cubans can gain U.S. residency. Under a 1966 congressional act, nearly all Cubans who make it to American shores can stay, an immigration status not given to any other nationality.

Some of the defectors had planned their escape for months. A photographer for Cuba’s Sports Institute, for example, arrived at the championships packing his entire portfolio of work.

The sources in the Cuban delegation, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the 32 defectors included athletes, coaches and at least one journalist.

The Cubans count their delegation nightly at the athletic housing, a National Guard barracks in Salinas, 60 miles southwest of San Juan. Cuban athletes said that after the first defections, they must ask permission 24 hours in advance to see outside friends or family so that security can be arranged.

There was no official Cuban statement on the defections Saturday.

P-DS-11-27-93 2208EST

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