Cuba Releases Czech Politicians

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

( - Two Czech politicians are on their way home after publicly confessing that they broke Cuban laws by meeting with Cuban dissidents at the behest of the New York-based Freedom House, a pro-democracy organization.

The Castro government believes Freedom House is trying to overthrow it.

Ivan Pilip, a former Czech finance minister, and Jan Bubenik, a former Czech student leader, were arrested last month, just days after arriving in Cuba on tourist visas. For meeting with Cuban dissidents, they were charged with "conspiring to undermine the Cuban regime."

The Castro government had threatened to put the two men on trial for inciting subversion, charges which carry a 20-year prison sentence.

Before leaving Havana, the two men admitted they broke Cuban law by meeting with the dissidents. They also admitted their opposition to Castro's one-party communist system and they apologized for their actions.

Accompanying the two on their way home were leaders of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an organization that had mediated the case.

Recently, Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel said neither he nor his country have any reason to apologize to Cuba about the Czech politicians' activities.

Relations between Cuba and the Czech Republic have worsened since the Czech Republic renounced communism. Last year, the Czech Republic provoked Cuba's wrath by sponsoring a United Nations resolution condemning Cuba's human rights record. That resolution is due to be debated again sometime next month.

The United States and the European Union had appealed to Cuba for the pair's release.