Cuba was once a sunny getaway for the elite of Czechoslovakia’s Communist regime; today, the Czech Republic is a safe haven for fleeing Cubans. After their attempt to escape from Cuba by sailing across the Straits of Florida was stopped by the U.S. Coast Guard, three Cuban families sat in Guantánamo Bay for a year and a half, waiting for word of their fate. Last March, they were granted asylum in a country their dictator once counted as a great ally.
While there is little beyond a history of Communism that the families will recognize in their new surroundings, the Czech Republic is in many ways a logical home for Cuban dissidents. After Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution in 1989, Czech Republic president Václav Havel made it a mission to advocate on behalf of dissident Cubans, from pressuring Castro to release prisoners to pushing for a series of UN resolutions denouncing human rights violations in Cuba. Castro has accused the Czech Republic, as well as other former Communist countries such as Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria that early on joined Havel’s crusade, of being “mean and shameful.”
Havel has pressed on with his work since retiring as president in 2003; that year, he founded the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba, a group of international statesmen and intellectuals (Madeleine Albright and Kim Campbell are both members) that is lobbying the EU to demand reform in Cuba. Havel has written: “I believe that every democratic government and every democrat
should act today as if power in Cuba were going to be handed over tomorrow.”
The identities and whereabouts of the Cuban refugees are being withheld from the public to protect their families at home. Cuban media has reported that one of them is suspected of committing terrorist attacks. The Czech Republic refutes this information as false, aimed at discrediting its reputation. M
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