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MIAMI (AP) _ A Cuban doctor who defected to the United States last year was reunited with his 4-year-old daughter and 11-year-old stepson Tuesday after Cuba's government released the children following the death of their mother.

Giselle Cordova jumped into the arms of her father, Dr. Leonel Cordova, knocking him to the floor. He gathered up Giselle and her half-brother Yusniel Hernandez in his arms, hugging them and crying. He wiped tears from Giselle's face.

``It has been so hard to be without them,'' he said, holding a bundle of balloons before they arrived.

Cordova arrived in Florida last August after a two-month journey that began when he and a Cuban dentist slipped away from a medical mission and sought refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe.

At one point, they accused Cuban diplomats of forcing them onto a flight to Havana, something Cuba denied. They were also jailed in Zimbabwe.

The children's mother, 34-year-old Rosalba Gonzalez, was killed last month in a motorcycle accident near her home in Cuba.

Yusniel had lived with Cordova almost his entire life before the doctor's defection. The boy's biological father gave legal authorization for his son to live with Cordova in Miami.

Cuba's approval of the children's departure coincided with the one-year anniversary Thursday of Elian Gonzalez's return to Cuba with his father.

Cordova noted it was appropriate the reunion came the day before Independence Day.

``It's going to be (our) first Fourth of July,'' he said. ``It's going to be our first free day in this country enjoying freedom.''

He and the children plan to spend the holiday at a friend's home and watch fireworks: ``It's going to be great.''