The Miami Herald
January 25, 2001

Cuba accuses 2 Czechs of trying to destabilize state


 The dispute between Cuba and the Czech Republic
 heated up Wednesday with new accusations by the
 Cuban government that Czech officials were conspiring
 to undermine the Cuban regime.

 At the same time, the Czech Republic won important
 support in Europe as the head of the European
 Parliament demanded in a letter that President Fidel
 Castro immediately release two Czech citizens the Cuban officials have accused
 of espionage.

 Lord Russell-Johnston protested against the alleged reasons for the detention of
 Ivan Pilip and Jan Bubenik, whose arrest Jan. 12 has created an increasingly
 strident international dispute. He also protested against the conditions in which
 they are being kept.

 In a statement placed on the Cuban Foreign Ministry website, Cuba maintains
 Pilip and Bubenik were trying to destabilize the state as part of a larger effort
 supported by their government. The statement accuses the Czech Republic of
 conspiring against Cuba since 1990, after the Czechs overthrew their communist
 regime. The document names specific Czech diplomats in Havana as
 troublemakers who coordinate with dissidents, ``Miami's Cuban Mafia'' and the
 U.S. Interests Section in Cuba.

 At the same time, the government hinted that the dispute could be resolved if the
 Czech government appealed to Cuba's ``generosity.''

 ``If they want an honorable way out to the incident,'' the statement said in its
 concluding paragraph, ``admit we are right, appeal to our generosity, and no
 longer commit the mistake of questioning our truth or testing our steadfastness.''

 Pilip, a member of the Czech Parliament, and Bubenik, a former leader of
 Prague's 1989 Velvet Revolution, were arrested after meeting with two dissidents
 in Ciego de Avila. Cuban authorities now say Pilip and Bubenik were carrying a
 computer, disks and CDs they were supposed to deliver to dissidents on behalf of
 Freedom House, a pro-democracy group based in Washington, D.C.

 Michael Goldfarb, a spokesman for Freedom House, would not say whether the
 Czechs were carrying equipment for the U.S. based group. The organization does
 not release details about who participates in their programs, he said.

 ``We support free exchange of information and person-to-person contact,''
 Goldfarb said. ``No one is calling for the overthrow of the Castro regime.''

 Relations between Cuba and the Czech Republic have become hostile since the
 Czechs began to co-sponsor a United Nations resolution condemning human
 rights abuses in Cuba. When they sponsored that resolution again last year, the
 Cubans reacted by holding a 100,000-strong demonstration outside the Czech

 On Monday, a Cuban prosecutor ordered that Pilip and Bubenik be held in
 ``preventive detention'' for up to 60 days until their case comes up for trial. If the
 trial does not take place in that time, the men could be detained for six months.
 Pilip's wife, Lucie Pilipova, visited the men over the weekend and said the
 prisoners ``are very well, they are being treated very well.''

 Human Rights Watch on Wednesday added its voice to the appeals, calling on
 Cuban authorities to release Pilip and Bubenik.

 ``The case of these Czech citizens shows just how flawed the Cuban criminal
 code is,'' said Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch's
 Americas Division. ``Cuban laws provide cover for all kinds of human rights