The Miami Herald
January 26, 2001

Talks on Czechs in the works


 With President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic refusing any apology to
 Havana, Cuban and Czech officials nevertheless said Thursday that the two
 countries would soon hold high-level talks over the detention of two prominent
 Czech citizens accused of subversion in Cuba.

 Miloslav Ransdorf, a member of the Czech Parliament, said Czech Foreign
 Ministry officials told legislators they would move the negotiations forward.

 ``We have to look for a solution, and for us to do that it is important that the two
 foreign ministries start communicating,'' said Ransdorf, a member of the Czech
 Communist Party. ``It's ridiculous when our embassy is getting its information
 from our security people.''

 Cuba's Foreign Ministry issued a statement Wednesday that said a meeting
 between Czech and Cuban diplomats could lead to an ``honorable solution'' that
 Havana proposed two days ago if Prague asked for the Cubans' ``generosity.''
 That prompted Havel's response Thursday that the Czechs had no reason to

 There have been no contacts between the two sides following the arrest on Jan.
 12 of Ivan Pilip, a member of Parliament, and Jan Bubenik, a human-rights activist
 and former student leader. The Cubans have been using the Czech communists
 as the sole channel for negotiations, while the Czech Foreign Ministry has been
 insisting on waiting for an official explanation.

 Cuban authorities arrested Pilip and Bubenik after they met with two dissidents.
 They said the men were carrying electronic equipment and material they were
 supposed to deliver to dissidents on behalf of Freedom House, a
 Washington-based pro-democracy group.

 Pilip and Bubenik, Cuban officials say, are among politicians, journalists and
 community activists from Eastern Europe with experience in ``democratic
 transitions.'' The two have been working, the officials say, with organizations like
 Freedom House to destabilize Cuba. The Cubans named specific Czech
 diplomats in Havana as troublemakers who coordinate with dissidents.

 In what may be a warning to others, the Cubans detailed alleged meetings
 between Pilip, Bubenik and Freedom House contacts, along with meetings
 between Czech diplomats and dissidents in Havana. The Cubans even reported
 the subjects of those conversations.

 Ransdorf blames the diplomatic impasse on his country's ``distorted foreign
 policy'' toward Cuba during the past decade. The Czechs have co-sponsored U.N.
 resolutions condemning human rights abuses in Cuba.

 ``The pattern we should follow is the pattern of European countries that have a
 balanced and civilized form of relationship with Cuba,'' Ransdorf said. ``I'm
 convinced this can create new space for establishing better relations.''

 Meanwhile, Romano Prodi, the president of the European Union's executive body,
 told Havel he will undertake a diplomatic offensive toward Havana, to follow up a
 first appeal to the Cuban authorities.

 Pilip, 37, and Bubenik, 32, are being held in ``preventive detention'' for up to 60
 days until their case comes up for trial.