Cuban pop stars defect on tour of California

TWO OF Cuba's best-known musicians have defected to the United States halfway through a tour of California. Jorge Luis Almarales and Eugenio Doria Del Valle turned up in the office of a Florida Representative and asked for political asylum.

The pair are members of Sintesis, a group acclaimed for their unique blend of electric rock, jazz and Afro-Cuban music. The band were in California when the guitarist and the drummer jumped on a bus and headed for South Florida.

Almarales, who left his pregnant wife behind in Cuba, said he and Del Valle felt stifled politically and professionally in Cuba. He complained that they were badly paid and felt unable to strike out musically. "You can't live in oppression. I had to find a better life, to find my own future as a guitarist. Life is not eternal, and you can't suffer all the time," Almarales said.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida Republican whom the pair turned to, said the defections were a symptom of the Cuban government's political bankruptcy. "Not a week goes by where somebody doesn't come seeking political asylum, because they are lacking freedom in Cuba, lacking academic opportunities or musical opportunities," she said.

Ms Ros-Lehtinen said her aides had contacted the US Immigration and Naturalization Service for instructions, but doesn't expect the musicians will face any legal problems.

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