Cuban Doctors Granted US Asylum But Remain In Sweden

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Corrects earlier version that indicated doctors were already headed for US

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The global criss-crossing may soon be over for two Cuban doctors who have been trying to escape the long arm of the Castro government since April. During the last three months, the physicians have gone from Cuba, to Zimbabwe, to South Africa, back to Zimbabwe and then to Sweden, all in an attempt to gain political asylum. The US has granted the asylum and the doctors could get travel visas to come to America by the end of this week, has learned.

The long and frustrating journey began for doctors Leonel Cordova Rodriguez and Noris Pena Martinez in April as they traveled to Zimbabwe as part of Cuba's medical aid program for developing countries. They were arrested in May, one day after seeking asylum at the Canadian embassy in Zimbabwe's capital city of Harare.

The doctors were then put on a plane back to Cuba, but during a scheduled stop-off in Johannesburg, South Africa, they managed to slip a note to the pilot saying they had been kidnapped after criticizing Fidel Castro. The pilot refused to fly them any farther and South African authorities sent them back to Zimbabwe, where they were jailed for another month before being sent to Sweden.

According to a source, the doctors, who have been granted asylum by the United States, are still trying to get through government red tape in Sweden in order to secure travel visas and get to the US.

Rudy Fernandez, a spokesman for Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), said Thursday the doctors have not yet been granted the travel visas. Ros-Lehtinen's office had spoken directly with the doctors Thursday morning, as well as officials from the State Department and the American Embassy in Stockholm. Fernandez said indications are that the doctors could be granted those travel visas this week.

Earlier in the day, sources had told the Cuban doctors were already on their way to the United States.

Both doctors have told reporters in Stockholm that they want to get to Miami as soon as possible, where they have relatives.