The Miami Herald
January 16, 2001

 Detentions in Cuba open a bitter divide

 Prague demanding release of visitors


 The bitter political differences between Cuba and the Czech Republic intensified
 Monday as Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Hynek Kmonicek presented a protest
 note to Cuba's top diplomat in Prague demanding the immediate release of two
 prominent Czech citizens detained in Cuba and an explanation for their arrest.

 The detention of the two, a Czech politician and a former dissident student leader,
 while on a private visit in Cuba is a telling indication of how rocky the relationship
 between Havana and Prague has grown as the countries pursue different political

 Ivan Pilip, a deputy in the Czech Parliament's lower house and a former finance
 and education minister, and Jan Bubenik, who was a student leader during the
 1989 Velvet Revolution and is a former deputy, were arrested Friday after a
 meeting with two Cuban dissidents in Ciego de Avila, about 185 miles southeast
 of Havana.

 Their alleged crime: ``violating the rules governing foreigners'' who visit Cuba.

 In Prague, the Czech government said it would take all steps within accepted
 international standards to secure the men's release.

 ``This is not a standard situation,'' said Petr Janousek, press attaché at the
 Czech embassy in Washington.

 The embassy, he said, was monitoring the situation but is not actively involved in
 any negotiations.

 The incident is unusual because foreigners who run afoul of Cuban authorities
 generally are briefly detained and then deported.


 ``I don't recall a similar case,'' said Frank Calzón, executive director of the Center
 for a Free Cuba.

 However, he pointed out that foreign diplomats whose views run counter to Cuban
 government ideology are often harassed, tailed when they visit dissidents or
 menaced by tire slashings.

 ``The bottom line is, people in Cuba are detained for doing things that are not
 considered a crime in almost any country.

 ``They have so many things in the books that they can always find an excuse to
 detain people,'' Calzón said.

 The detention ``is not in accordance with the principles which the Czech Republic
 as well as other democracies stand for,'' the Czech Foreign Ministry said in a
 press release.

 The ministry said it has had great difficulty getting official information from Havana
 and that the men were not allowed to contact the Czech mission in Havana until
 Saturday -- despite their pleas to do so.


 At the time they were arrested, Pilip and Bubenik were on a private visit to Cuba
 that was expected to end this week.

 Pilip -- co-founder of the Freedom Union, a political party -- has been a member of
 the Czech Parliament since 1998. He served as finance minister in 1997-98 and
 was education minister from 1994 until 1997.

 Trained as an economist, he also was a researcher at the Institute of Sociology of
 the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences and the Prague School of Economics.

 Bubenik was a student leader and spokesman during the Velvet Revolution while
 in medical school.

 At the age of 21, he was elected as the youngest member of the first
 post-Communist parliament in the old Czechoslovakia in 1990. He served until

 Now an employee of Korn/Ferry Consulting in Prague, he created his own
 nongovernment public organization, or NGO, Spolecnot 89, to organize events
 celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet bloc.


 By the time Bubenik began serving in parliament, relations between
 Czechoslovakia and Cuba were already on a downward spiral.

 For years, the Cuban Interests Section in Washington technically operated as a
 part of the Czechoslovak Embassy because the United States and Cuba don't
 have diplomatic relations.

 But Freedom House and the Cuban-American National Foundation lobbied the
 government of President Vaclav Havel to drop the representation as a symbolic
 gesture, and in December 1990, Havel's government announced the relationship
 was over.


 Last April, after the Czech Republic and Poland, with support from the United
 States, co-sponsored a resolution criticizing Cuba's human rights record that was
 approved by the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva, the Cuban
 government organized a massive protest march past the Czech Embassy in

 The next day Cuban officials accused Czech diplomats of passing cash,
 computers, propaganda and other supplies from anti-Castro groups in Florida to
 Cuban dissidents.

 A Czech foreign ministry spokesman called the allegations ``total nonsense.''

 The accusations remain a sore point between the two countries.

 But Antonio Femenías, a dissident journalist, said he and Roberto Valdivia, the
 other Ciego de Avila dissident and a member of the Cuban Committee for Human
 Rights, only talked with the Czechs.

 ``There was absolutely nothing offered. They talked about the situation in the
 country, about the socialist camp, and about perspectives,'' he said.

 Femenías and Valdivia were briefly detained and then released.

 After Pilip and Bubenik were detained they were transferred to Havana, where
 they were in the custody of police who deal with foreigners.

 `INCREASING FEAR'Calzón said he interpreted the arrests as a sign that the
 Cuban government ``is increasingly fearful that what happened in Eastern Europe
 could happen in Cuba'' and wants to stop the flow of ideas that might encourage
 that scenario.