Czech Republic condemns crackdown on Cuban dissidents

Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya and former Czech president Vaclav Havel, photo: CTK

The Czech Republic has joined widespread condemnation of the Cuban regime's latest crackdown on dissidents - the worst since the 1960's. The Czech government, Senate, leading intellectuals and members of the public have all found ways to voice their opposition to the latest wave of human rights abuse in Cuba.

Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya and former Czech president Vaclav Havel, photo: CTK
The execution of three men who tried to hijack a passenger boat in an attempt to escape to the United States and long prison terms for 75 Cuban dissidents have shocked the international community. The United States and the Council of EU Foreign Ministers have condemned the crackdown, warning Cuba that its actions would inevitably effect its relations with the world. The human rights group Amnesty International slammed the end of a three year moratorium on executions and expressed concern for the fate of 50 people who are believed to be on death row.

In Prague, protesters gathered outside the Cuban embassy on Tuesday, while the Foreign Ministry issued a strongly worded statement urging Cuba to honor its international commitments related to protection of human rights.

A group of former Czech dissidents, including the former president Vaclav Havel, have signed a petition urging Cuba to release all political prisoners. And the Czech Senate on Tuesday approved a resolution condemning Cuba's handling of political opponents. Independent Senator Eduard Outrata, who drafted the resolution, says that the timing of this latest crack down on Cuban dissidents was no coincidence.

"Under cover of the war in Iraq, the Cuban government has started a massive, unprecedented wave of persecution of dissidents and people aren't noticing too much because of the focus of the war in Iraq. Now that's an awful shame because the problems of Cuban dissidents are quite unprecedented. The sentences are extremely long, there are people being sentenced for "pandering to American imperialism" and spying and all that rubbish that we knew in the 50s in this country. Now, it is quite important in those situations for the dissidents to realize that the world hasn't forgotten them. So we thought it was important to express our horror and give it some form."

Governments around the world have protested very strongly. Do you think there is any chance of influencing the Cuban regime at this point?

"Well, probably not overnight. But constant pressure always leads to results with dictatorial regimes. If it is done well, over a long period of time, it can even lead to remarkable successes like the collapse of communism altogether, some time ago. "

I understand that you plan to hand over a copy of this resolution to the Cuban embassy in Prague today, is that so?

"Yes, yes. Knowing dictatorial regimes they will certainly pretend that they don't give a damn but in actual fact they will start thinking more about the long term problems and if they don't then they will speed up the end of this regime in Cuba. It's a question of how you interpret why they've been doing it. It could be an attempt to strengthen the regime, it could also be a desperate, last ditch effort at the very end of a regime that's collapsing. It is hard to tell. But whichever way it is, it will help the dissidents if they realize that people in the world are on their side and doing something about it - and have noticed that this horror is happening."