Czech official fails to free detainees in Cuba
HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters) -- A senior Czech official headed home early Sunday
after lengthy talks with President Fidel Castro failed to win the release of two
prominent Czechs arrested for meeting with Cuban dissidents.
Czech Senate President Petr Pithart told reporters he believed his six
frank talks with the Cuban leader in Havana had made a "useful" contribution to
ongoing efforts to resolve the sensitive case, however.
Pithart had been in communist-ruled Cuba since Monday on a mission to seek
the release of former Czech Finance Minister Ivan Pilip and ex-student leader Jan
Bubenik, who were arrested January 12 on charges of holding "subversive
contacts" with Cuban opposition activists.
"We have concluded that my mission has been useful and has helped towards
resolving the case," Pithart said. "I am convinced that both sides are interested in
solving the case as soon as possible."
Havana has accused the Czechs of being "agents" of U.S. interests, and
following the directives of the U.S.-based Freedom House organization -- known
for its opposition to Castro -- in meeting and seeking to help local dissidents.
Pilip and Bubenik were arrested after meeting dissident journalist Antonio
Femenias and rights activist Roberto Valdivia. Czech President Vaclav Havel,
himself a former anti-communist dissident, and other Czech leaders have ruled
out an apology and have condemned the arrests as a human rights abuse.
Pithart said that in his talks with Castro and Cuban National Assembly
Ricardo Alarcon, both sides had committed themselves to "continuing to do
everything possible to find a solution in a reasonable time." He declined to answer
His meeting with Castro took place hours after the Cuban leader insisted
Cuba wanted a Czech apology over the incident, which has soured already
strained ties between the erstwhile Socialist-era allies. Pilip's wife, Lucie Pilipova,
looked disappointed after Pithart's statement.
"The only thing we can do is to carry on working with our lawyer to defend
two so they can be released," she said.
She had earlier visited her husband at the Villa Marista state security
in Havana where he and Bubenik were being held.
Pithart said that in his talks with Castro he had explained his own past
anti-government dissident under communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia,
and how he had often received foreign visitors and clandestine literature.
During a six-hour speech on Friday night, Castro said the two Czechs had
detained after being caught trying to promote "subversion and destabilization" and
were guilty of "serious violations of our laws," Castro said.
"Let the reality be admitted with our proofs, and let there be an apology
our country," Castro added in his first public comments on the case. He did not
mention any detailed charges in his speech, but he said Cuba could clearly prove
wrongdoing by the pair.
Copyright 2001 Reuters.