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Cuban boxers who defected are 'repentant,' Brazilian police say

Two Cuban boxers who were arrested in Brazil after defecting during last month's Pan American Games told police they are "repentant" and want to "return home," authorities said Friday. Erislandy Lara and Guillermo Rigondeaux were staying at a hotel in the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area, whose name was not made public for security reasons. They are no longer under arrest but being kept under surveillance because they are in Brazil illegally, police commissioner Felicio Laterca said.

Rigondeaux, 25, and Lara, 24, were found Thursday in Araruama, in the north-west of the state of Rio. The two boxers disappeared during the games on July 21 and reportedly signed contracts with Germany's Arena Box-Promotion.

The two boxers told police they left the Pan American Village in the company of two businessmen - a German and a Cuban citizen - who promised to take them to Europe to embark on a professional career.

But they have since apparently changed their minds, saying they regretted the defection and hoped to return to Cuba. The sportsmen rejected the assistance of lawyers who said they had been sent by the businessmen.

Police said the two Cubans were identified Thursday because they spoke no Portuguese and had no money or papers on them.

Brazilian daily O Globo reported that they had spent the past few days with two Europeans and three prostitutes in a hotel, and were expecting forged documents from Germany in order to leave Brazil.

Ailing Cuban President Fidel Castro last month accused a German "mafia" of being behind the defections, using "psychological methods" and "millions of dollars" to recruit them.

Days after their disappearance from the games, Hamburg-based Arena Box-Promotion announced that Rigondeaux, 2000 and 2004 bantamweight Olympic champion, and Lara, world amateur welterweight champion, had signed 5-year-contracts.
"We are in contact with the Brazilian authorities. Maybe there is still a chance that Rigondeaux and Lara come to us. I wish as much for the sake of both young men, who just want to be free and earn money," company owner Ahmet Oener said in a statement Friday.

Rigondeaux's defection was a particularly strong blow for Cuban sport. Boxing is one of the country's showcase sports and Rigondeaux, who won 142 consecutive fights from 1999-2003, was seen as the last great boxer of his generation.

The two followed a trend of Cuban boxers defecting. In December 2006 during a tournament in Caracas three big Cuban boxing stars - Yan Barthelemy, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Odlanier Solis - defected and now box professionally in Germany.


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