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Arrests show Cuba's harsh new view of Czechs
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HAVANA, Cuba (CNN)-- Czechs and Cubans once considered themselves brothers living on the same side of the ideological fence.
This week's announcement by the Cuban government that two Czech citizens arrested January 12 will be put on trial as pro-United States agents is proof of just how much has changed since the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.
In an icy-toned announcement, Cuba's Communist Party daily, "Granma", denounced former Czech finance Minister and current member of parliament Ivan Pilip, and former student leader and Czech pro-democracy foundation member Jan Bubenik, as "agents working for the Cuban-American Mafia in the United States."
The Czechs arrived in Cuba on January 8 on tourist visas and were arrested after meeting with Cuban government opponents in Ciego de Avila, about 185 miles southeast of Havana.
Accused of conspiring
The Cuban government says they were "conspiring against the revolution" and "have no right to impunity, whatever their position and rank."
Although the Cuban government has in the past denounced alleged "counter-revolutionary" activities by several visitors from former Socialist-bloc countries, this is the first time that any have been arrested to face trial.
Just what they will be charged with is still unclear. In Cuba those found guilty of crimes against the state regularly receive sentences ranging from five to 20 years in prison.
Despite protests from the Czech Republic's foreign ministry demanding the release of Pilip and Bubenik, Havana appears unmoved.
Cuba has not forgotten or forgiven
Cuban authorities have not forgotten nor forgiven the Czech Republic for co-sponsoring a joint resolution last year before the United Nations' Human Rights Commission, condemning Cuba for rights abuses.
In response, the Cuban government organized a massive protest march on April 18 in front of the Czech Embassy in Havana, where thousands of demonstrators shouted "down with the Czech lackeys of U.S. imperialism."
This sort of reaction is normally reserved for protests against the United States. Recently, however, the attacks have broadened to include citizens of former Socialist countries such as Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic, who are accused of co-operating with Washington in its efforts to undermine Cuba's Communist system.
Cuban authorities claim these "agents of U.S. interests" regularly shuttle money and subversive literature from the United States to Cuban dissidents. Elizardo Sanchez, president of the Cuban Human Rights and Reconciliation Commission, denies receiving any kind of assistance from the Czechs, adding the two men under arrest committed no crime.
The Cuban government's decision to arrest and try, rather than simply expel, the two Czechs indicates, that for Havana it is payback time, according to observers.
"The Foreign Ministry of the Czech Republic, with its haughtiness, arrogance and stridence, has protested the arrests of these men employed by the Empire," said Granma.
"But their hysterical cries have no value, just as the Czech government gave no importance to its shameful role as an instrument of the United States in the infamous accusations against Cuba in the Human Rights Commission in Geneva."
A date for a hearing for the two Czech citizens has not been set.
Czechs face anti-Cuba plot trial
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