Pilip, Bubenik broke law and will face consequences

Ivan Pilip

The saga surrounding the arrest in Cuba of the Czech MP Ivan Pilip took a dramatic turn on Tuesday - a government statement carried by the state media described Mr Pilip and his colleague Jan Bubenik as "U.S. spies" and said they would be tried for "counter-revolutionary" plotting on behalf of U.S. interests. The statement has quashed hopes in Prague that the two men would merely be deported, and their relatives are now seriously worried about their future. Rob Cameron has more.

Ivan Pilip
Ivan Pilip and Jan Bubenik may well be regretting their decision to visit the island: according to reports in the media they have now been transferred to the Villa Marista prison in a different quarter of Havana: the jail houses political prisoners, and conditions there are described as extremely harsh. A statement in the government-controlled media said the two men were U.S. agents and would be tried according to Cuban law. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation has confirmed that the Czechs did hold meetings with human rights activists Antonio Femenias and Roberto Valdivia, but deny receiving money or materials from them. "They committed no crime," the head of the rights commission, Elizardo Sanchez, told Reuters.

But that's not how the Cuban authorities see it. David Paulovic is the Cuban chargé d'affairs in Prague. Mr Paulovic was unable to give me any more specific information on the concrete evidence against Mr Pilip and Mr Bubenik: that would be heard, he said, by a Cuban court. Mr Paulovic said it was now up to the authorities in Prague to explain what a Czech parliamentary deputy, albeit a member of the opposition, was doing holding secret meetings with Cuban dissidents. The tone of Cuba's response is worrying for Prague. Cuba had been expected to expel the pair, as it did in other recent cases of foreigners who met local activists opposed to President Fidel Castro's communist regime. The Czech government has issued two official protests: these have been dismissed by Havana as "hysterical cries which are worth nothing" from an "arrogant" government which is a "true lackey of imperialism."

But while some say Cuba is serious about trying the two men, others have said Havana is merely trying to send a clear message to Prague to think twice about sponsoring another resolution against alleged human rights abuses in Castro's 'Island of Freedom'. Cuba was furious at its former Communist allies last year, when the Czech Republic co-sponsored a joint resolution at a U.N. forum alleging human rights violations. Rumours abound that Prague is preparing another resolution, this time with American backing.