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Second Gymnast Defects

Cuban athlete at World Championships joins teammate seeking asylum in U.S.

August 19, 2003|Lauren Peterson | Times Staff Writer

Charles Leon Tamayo of Cuba, a medalist in the 2001 World Gymnastics Championships, joined teammate Michel Brito Ferrer on Monday in a plan to defect to the United States.

Brito Ferrer, who said Sunday that he planned to remain in the U.S. after this week's World Gymnastics Championships at the Arrowhead Pond, was joined by Leon Tamayo at the home of Ferrer's uncle, Ramon Ferrer, in Los Angeles on Monday.

Cuba finished 15th during qualifying and did not advance to the team finals. Neither athlete advanced to individual finals and are finished competing in the meet.

Leon Tamayo, 22, told reporters that he was "fine" and felt "good" about his decision to defect to the U.S.

Cuban officials could not be reached for comment.

Brito Ferrer, 24, told his uncle that he competed in the competition so he could travel to the U.S. and then defect.

Attorney Luis Carrillo told reporters from Ferrer's house that the athletes are "very exhausted. They're very tired. These are difficult times for them.

"They're here because of the political repression, the political persecution for them in Cuba," he said.

Attorney Meredith Brown said the two men "fear for their lives if they return," and that the defection in Southern California of the two Cuban athletes was a first-time event.

"That's true," she said. "And I think it's going to be a very strong case, given that now, that they're part of the dissident community, they're going to have a very strong claim for asylum."

To qualify for asylum, according to Brown, applicants have to be in the country, to apply within their first year and have a credible fear of persecution based on race, religion, "or in this case, political opinion."

Brito Ferrer competed in all six events for the Cubans, finishing 112th overall. Leon Tamayo finished 56th overall.

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Associated Press contributed to this report.

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