Brazil grants asylum to two Cuban athletes

BRASILIA, Sep 29 (Reuters) Brazil's government granted asylum to two Cuban athletes on Friday, nearly two months after being criticised by the opposition for hastily returning two boxers to the Caribbean nation.

Rafael Capote, a handball player, and Michel Fernandez Garcia, a cyclist, had abandoned the Cuban delegation during the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro in July. Capote said he was seeking better professional opportunities in Brazil.

Both were granted their request for asylum, a justice ministry spokeswoman said yesterday.

The government's swift deportation in August of two internationally acclaimed Cuban boxers caused concern among human rights group and led Congress to launch an investigation.

Guillermo Rigondeaux and Erislandy Lara left their delegation and apparently said they wanted asylum. But according to the police, they later regretted their decision and said they wanted to return to Cuba.

Opposition legislators accused the government of acting on behalf of the Cuban government and prompting the two athletes to leave.

The ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro had promised that neither would be punished.

Under Brazilian law, asylum is granted in cases of persecution or fear of returning for political, ethnic or religious reasons.

Capote and Garcia will obtain Brazilian passports and have the right to citizenship after six years of residency, the justice ministry spokeswoman said.

Reuters MP VP0438

Story first published: Saturday, September 29, 2007, 10:04 [IST]
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