The Miami Herald
February 6, 2001

Cuba frees two Czech citizens

Pair signed paper admitting they had broken the law

 Associated Press

 HAVANA -- Cuba on Monday freed two prominent Czech citizens after they
 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
 conference later.

 Chilean Congressman Juan Pablo Letelier, the human rights representative of the
 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 foreign
 diplomats that they had broken Cuban laws when they met with dissidents here
 last month.

 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 were among
 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,'' Castro said
 during a six-hour speech that ran into the early hours of Saturday.

 Tension between the two countries ran high in recent weeks, with Castro calling
 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 Havana last
 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 committee also
 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 that Pilip
 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 nation's security
 and inciting a rebellion, the Czechs could have faced up to 20 years in prison.

 Herald translator Renato Pérez contributed to this report.