Castro regime bans "counter-revolutionary" Czech reception at Havana hotel
Relations between the Czech Republic and Cuba have long been cool, but the thermometer dropped a few more degrees on Friday, following an incident in the Cuban capital. Czech diplomats had been planning to celebrate Czechoslovak independence day at a Havana hotel, but the reception was banned at the last minute by the Cuban authorities.
Czechs and Slovaks celebrated independence day on Friday, the 87th anniversary of the foundation of the independent Czechoslovak state. The Czech embassy in Havana had booked a luxury hotel to celebrate the event, and invited a number of Cuban and foreign guests. But it was the invitations issued to twenty so-called "Ladies in White" - wives and relatives of Cuban political prisoners - which angered the Castro regime, and at the last minute the reception, dubbed "counter-revolutionary" by the Cuban authorities, was banned.
Kristina Prunerova works at the People in Need human rights group, and is also secretary of the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba (ICDC). She told Radio Prague the ban had come as no surprise:
"I think this is a typical reaction of a totalitarian regime, such as the regime of Fidel Castro. They're trying to prohibit any activity that would go against the regime. Obviously they don't want the world to know about the opposition, so they're trying to eliminate the contacts. And this was probably the reason why they tried to stop the celebration in the hotel in Havana."
An impromptu reception was later held at the Czech Ambassador's residence, attended by a number of EU ambassadors. The Czech government has made Cuba a foreign policy priority, opposing attempts within the EU to take a more conciliatory stance towards the Castro regime. Kristina Prunerova says many Czechs - who spent four decades living under Communism - feel a moral obligation to promote human rights and democracy in Cuba.
"I think the most important fact is the common history that we share with Cubans, because we also lived under the Communist regime and a strong totalitarian regime such as the one Fidel Castro is running in Cuba. We feel solidarity, because we were also helped from abroad and that solidarity was very important to us. Now we're trying to help in Cuba in that same way."
The Czech Republic is fighting something of a lonely battle within the EU on Cuba. However Czech diplomats have been encouraged by the recent support of several EU countries for a resolution condemning human rights abuses in Cuba in the United Nations human rights commission. Both the Czech government and NGOs hope the EU itself is slowly swinging towards adopting a unified position on Cuba.
(Radio Prague made several attempts to speak to the Cuban charge d'affaires this morning, but was told she was not available for interview).