January 16, 2001

Cuba says it will try Czechs as pro-U.S. agents

                  HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters) -- An ex-Czech finance minister and former student
                  leader, arrested in Cuba for meeting anti-Castro dissidents, will be tried for
                  "counter-revolutionary" plotting on behalf of the United States, Havana said on

                  "Those who rudely violate our laws and conspire against the Revolution have no
                  right to impunity, whatever their position and rank," said a government statement
                  carried by state media.

                  The ex-minister and now parliamentary deputy Ivan Pilip, and the former student
                  leader, Jan Bubenik, were arrested at the end of last week in the central province
                  of Ciego de Avila, drawing a protest from Prague and further souring already
                  hostile ties between the one-time Socialist-bloc allies.

                  "The two agents at the service of the United States ... will be placed at the
                  disposition of the tribunals, who will determine the relevant measures," Havana's
                  statement added.

                  Cuba had been expected to expel the pair, as it did in other recent cases of
                  foreigners who met local activists opposed to President Fidel Castro's
                  communist government.

                  The statement said Bubenik and Pilip, who arrived in Cuba on Jan. 8, had
                  violated their immigration status as tourists, by following instructions of
                  U.S.-based anti-Castro groups to "maintain subversive contacts with members of
                  little counter-revolutionary groups" in Ciego de Avila.

                  "Their visit had nothing to do with tourism, and the real aims were to contact
                  counter-revolutionary elements, give them instructions and hand them
                  resources," it added.

                  According to a dissident local rights' group, the Cuban Commission for Human
                  Rights and National Reconciliation, the Czechs met the activists Antonio
                  Femenias and Roberto Valdivia.

                  Cubans also briefly detained

                  Femenias, a dissident journalist who works unauthorized outside Cuba's
                  state-controlled media with the Patria (Fatherland) agency, and Valdivia, of the
                  Cuban Committee for Human Rights, were also called in for questioning.

                  Rights' commission head, Elizardo Sanchez, said both had denied receiving
                  money or materials from the Czechs. "They committed no crime in holding this
                  meeting ... the Cuban government is violating civil rights here," Sanchez said.

                  Prague has protested the men's arrest, but Havana dismissed that as "hysterical
                  cries which are worth nothing" from an "arrogant" government which is a "true
                  lackey of imperialism."

                  Socialist-era Cuban-Czech friendship fell away after communism's demise in
                  Eastern Europe a decade ago, and plunged further in 2000 when the Czechs
                  co-sponsored a joint resolution at a U.N. forum alleging Cuban human rights

                  About 100,000 Cubans rallied at the time outside the Czech Embassy in Havana
                  in a state-organized protest of the motion, which was passed at the U.N. Human
                  Rights' Commission. Havana directed then particular wrath at Czech President
                  Vaclav Havel, himself a former anti-communist dissident.

                  Tuesday's statement said the Czech pair in Cuba appeared to be "emissaries" of
                  the U.S.-based Freedom House organization, which it described as "an institution
                  created by the U.S. government to supply funds to anti-patriots who conspire
                  against the Revolution."

                  In similar recent cases, such as two Swedish journalists who met with dissident
                  Cuban reporters, and a retired U.S. academic who also met opposition figures,
                  the government has deported them rather than bring charges.