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2 Cuban Football Players May Have Defected to US - 2002-01-25

A Florida newspaper reports that two leading members of Cuba's national football team have defected to the United States.

The Cuban team was taking part in the Gold Cup regional tournament in Los Angeles. The two reportedly left their hotel Thursday and went to the home of a friend.

The Miami newspaper El Nuevo Herald reports that the two forwards, Rey Angel Martinez, 20, and Alberto Delgado, 22, decided to stay in the United States to pursue professional opportunities in the MLS, U.S. major league soccer.

Late Thursday, both men spoke with a reporter from the Spanish language newspaper by telephone. Mr. Delgado said he had made the decision that morning "without thinking twice about it." According to the newspaper, he added that Cuban young people are eager to "live and travel abroad freely."

Rick Lawes of the Confederation of North and Central American and Caribbean Association Football said Friday he cannot confirm the defections, but can confirm that two Cubans were not on their return-flight to Havana. "Two members of the Cuban delegation apparently did not travel on the same departure flight from the Los Angeles area as the rest of the delegation," Mr. Lawes said.

Cubans who arrive in the United States are entitled to stay and work, and can later be granted permanent resident status.