Cuba frees two Czech citizens
Pair signed paper admitting they had broken the law
BY ANITA SNOW
HAVANA -- Cuba on Monday freed two prominent Czech citizens after
signed a statement admitting they had broken Cuban law. They had been held in
a Havana jail for more than three weeks on subversion charges for meeting with
Immediately after their release, Czech lawmaker Ivan Pilip and
Jan Bubenik left
Cuba's Foreign Ministry building in a car, saying they would hold a news
Chilean Congressman Juan Pablo Letelier, the human rights representative
Inter-Parliamentary Union, confirmed that the men had been freed and would be
leaving the island in a few hours.
The announcement came after the pair admitted before a group of
diplomats that they had broken Cuban laws when they met with dissidents here
In the signed declaration, Pilip, 37, an ex-finance minister,
and Bubenik, 32, a
former student leader, admitted to ``the error of not knowing Cuban law and of
violating Cuban law,'' Marco Antonio Loustaunau, Mexico's commercial attaché
here, told reporters. The statement did not contain an apology.
A copy of the document was not made available to reporters.
Diplomats from countries including Sweden, Chile, and Great Britain
others seen entering the Foreign Ministry building for the meeting, which was
arranged by Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque .
President Fidel Castro had earlier suggested that the case could
be resolved if an
apology were offered.
``Offer an apology to our country . . . there must be an excuse,''
during a six-hour speech that ran into the early hours of Saturday.
Tension between the two countries ran high in recent weeks, with
the Czech embassy in Havana ``a cave of spies,'' which had ``spent 10 years
If convicted on charges of acting against the island nation's
security and inciting a
rebellion, the Czechs could have faced up to 20 years in prison.
Cuban authorities remain angry about the Czech Republic's role
last year in
introducing a United Nations resolution to condemn Cuba for its human rights
record. Poland, another former socialist ally, cosponsored the resolution, which
was later approved at a meeting in Geneva.
Johnson said he met three times with Castro since arriving in
Wednesday, as well as with Cuba's National Assembly president, Ricardo
Alarcón, in hopes of helping free the pair.
Letelier, president of the Inter-Parliamentary group's human rights
attended the meetings. He is the son of Orlando Letelier, the former Chilean
ambassador to the United States who was slain in Washington in 1976 by a car
bomb blamed on anti-Castro Cuban exiles.
The parliamentarians also met with the jailed Czechs, as well
as Czech Senate
President Petr Pithart, who traveled to Havana last week in hopes of helping free
the pair. The lawmakers' group became involved in the case because Pilip is a
parliamentarian and the Cuban government allowed its representatives to take on
a mediation role several days ago, Johnson said.
According to Prague radio, Pithart on Monday said he had information
and Bubenik were the first people to be accused under Cuban Law 88 from 1999,
which Cuba says was a reaction to the 1996 Helms-Burton Act. The
Helms-Burton Act says that Americans have a right to sue foreign firms that do
business in Cuba using property that used to belong to Americans.
The pair was arrested Jan. 12 after they met with dissidents in
the central Cuban
province of Ciego de Avila. Cuban authorities claim the Czechs were acting on
behalf of American interests, accusations U.S. officials have branded as
Had they been convicted on charges of acting against the island
and inciting a rebellion, the Czechs could have faced up to 20 years in prison.
Herald translator Renato Pérez contributed to this report.