Cuba rejects Czech protest of arrests
Prague seeks pair's release
BY JANE BUSSEY
Cuban authorities rejected official protests Wednesday from the
over the detention of two prominent Czech citizens and repeated the threat that
the two leaders of the 1989 Velvet Revolution would be tried by a ``revolutionary
As top Cuban and Czech diplomats met face to face in Havana, Prague
up pressure on the Cuban government to release Ivan Pilip, a member of the
Czech parliament, and Jan Bubenik, a corporate recruiter in Prague. The two men
were arrested in southeastern Cuba on Friday after meeting with two dissidents
and are currently being held in the Villa Marista prison in Havana.
The State Department condemned the detentions of the two men,
European Union mentioned the arrests in its semiannual report assessing the
Cuban situation. The Prague parliament late Wednesday moved to contact the
Inter-Parliamentary Union to call for the organization to rethink its scheduled
international meeting in Cuba in April. Prague Cardinal Miloslav Vlk made an
appeal to the archbishop of Havana, Jaime Ortega, calling the arrests absurd.
The arrest of two prominent Czech democracy leaders is set against
backdrop of sharply worsening relations between Czech President Vaclav Havel
and President Fidel Castro of Cuba. Newspaper reports noted that Czech citizens
reject Havana's charges that the two men were acting as spies.
``Let's view the affair as Havana's retaliation for the anti-Cuban
the Czech Republic, together with Poland, pushed through some time ago,'' said
Milan Vodicka wrote in Mlada fronta Dnes, Prague's largest circulation daily.
Following the resolution condemning Cuba's human rights record
at a United
Nations forum in April, the Cuban government organized a protest of 100,000
people outside the Czech Embassy.
A Cuban tribunal must decide by noon today if authorities will
level formal charges
against Pilip and Bubenik, who were detained in Ciego de Avila and accused of
carrying out activities that are not permitted on tourist visas.
``Tomorrow is D-Day,'' said Petr Janousek, spokesman for the Czech
Washington. ``We are hoping for relief.''
The Czech chargé d'affaires in Havana, Josef Marsicek,
spent less than one hour
on Wednesday at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, where Cuban officials rejected two
protest notes from Prague and announced that ``revolutionary tribunals'' would try
the two men.
Despite the standoff and the harsh words used by the official
Granma, Prague seemed to hold out hope for a peaceful settlement. Czech
Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said he believed the matter would be closed
``expeditiously and conciliatorily,'' the embassy in Washington said.
While Pilip is the most high-profile of the two -- he played a
central role in
securing Prague as the site for last October's World Bank/International Monetary
Fund meeting and as a member of parliament has led revolts against his party
leadership -- Bubenik has the most famous face.
In 1989, as a 20-year-old medical student, Bubenik was drawn into
protests that toppled the Communist regime.
Bubenik became spokesman for the Velvet Revolution and went on
to become a
member of the first post-Communist parliament.
Although he recently has pursued a career as a corporate recruiter
multinational firm Korn/Ferry, in 1999 he again burst into the limelight as he
helped to organize marches that were part of the pressure to make Czech
politicians more responsive to citizens.
``We have the goal of a more transparent, more pluralistic and
Bubenik told The Los Angeles Times.
Pilip, who learned Spanish as a student in Madrid in 1988, has
a reputation for
working long hours at the parliament. Before co-founding the Freedom Union
Party, he served as education and finance minister.
Herald special correspondent Rick Jervis in Prague contributed to this report.