Czech Senate leader flies to Cuba over detainees
HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters) -- A Czech official flew on Monday to Cuba in an
effort to break the diplomatic deadlock over the fate of two prominent Czechs
arrested on the communist-run island after meeting with dissidents.
Czech Senate leader Petr Pithart was headed to Havana at President Fidel
Castro's invitation after Pithart wrote seeking the release of ex-finance minister
and current legislator, Ivan Pilip, and former student leader Jan Bubenik.
"Hopefully this may lead to some solutions," Pilip's wife, Lucie Pilipova,
Reuters in Havana where she came to visit her husband in jail. "It is very
important both sides start to communicate. This visit could be a positive
Havana wants Prague to admit the men were wrong to sustain "subversive"
contacts with activists.
But President Vaclav Havel -- himself a former anti-communist dissident
other Czech authorities have condemned the arrests as a human rights' abuse.
The visit of Pithart, who was expected to arrive in Cuba on Monday night,
would be the first high-level contact between the two countries since the arrests
earlier this month.
"We imagine that Mr. Pithart will return very soon in a plane with Pilip
Bubenik on board," said a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Prague, adding they
might be back this week.
In a case that has also drawn strong protests from Europe and Washington,
Cuba insists the two men broke local laws and were operating on the instructions
of the U.S.-based Freedom House organization, known for its opposition to
Cuba says Freedom House financed their trip and gave them names and
addresses of dissidents, as well as a computer to give to their contacts.
If tried under Cuba's local penal code, the pair would be charged with
against the security of the state."
Pilip's wife, who has visited her husband daily at Havana's Villa Marista
center, said Pilip and Bubenik were in relatively good spirits.
"Ivan didn't know he was breaking Cuban law," she said.
The incident has further embittered what were already poor relations between
former Socialist-era allies. Their friendship fell away after communism's demise
in Eastern Europe a decade ago, and plunged further in 2000 when the Czechs
co-sponsored a U.N. resolution alleging Cuban rights' violations.
A senior member of Cuba's Catholic Church visited Pilip in jail in recent
said he found the Czech to be "very serene."
"He is a practicing Catholic, and he asked to see a priest," Monsignor
Manuel de Cespedes said, noting it was unusual for Cuban authorities to allow
the Church to visit a state security detention center.
"Physically he is fine," he said.
Pilip and Bubenik were arrested on January 12 in the central province of
de Avila after meeting a dissident journalist and a human rights activist there.
Castro's government regards all dissidents as U.S.-backed
"counter-revolutionaries" and outlaws all overt opposition activism.
The two Ciego de Avila dissidents -- Antonio Femenias and Roberto Valdivia
denied receiving anything from the Czechs and said it was a "normal" meeting.
Pithart wrote a letter offering Castro a personal guarantee that Pilip
were not American agents and calling for their release, Czech officials said.
Copyright 2001 Reuters.