The Miami Herald
January 18, 2001

Cuba rejects Czech protest of arrests

Prague seeks pair's release


 Cuban authorities rejected official protests Wednesday from the Czech Republic
 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 stepped
 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, while the
 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 the
 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 resolution which
 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 Embassy in
 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 Cuban newspaper
 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 the November
 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 with the
 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 open society,''
 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.