Detentions in Cuba open a bitter divide
Prague demanding release of visitors
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
The bitter political differences between Cuba and the Czech Republic
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
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
Their alleged crime: ``violating the rules governing foreigners'' who visit Cuba.
In Prague, the Czech government said it would take all steps within
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
The incident is unusual because foreigners who run afoul of Cuban
generally are briefly detained and then deported.
NO SIMILAR CASES
``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
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
in medical school.
At the age of 21, he was elected as the youngest member of the
post-Communist parliament in the old Czechoslovakia in 1990. He served until
Now an employee of Korn/Ferry Consulting in Prague, he created
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
government of President Vaclav Havel to drop the representation as a symbolic
gesture, and in December 1990, Havel's government announced the relationship
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
computers, propaganda and other supplies from anti-Castro groups in Florida to
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
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