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12/11/13 - Miami Herald - Czech ambassador says his country's experiences may be useful to Cuba's transition to democracy 

BY JUAN O. TAMAYO JTAMAYO@ELNUEVOHERALD.COM

For the Czech Republic's ambassador to the United States, Petr Gandalovic,
Cuba's future might well follow the path of his country's past.

His European nation of 10 million people lived under Communist rule from
1948 to 1989, when the Velvet Revolution led by dissident and playwright
Vaclav Havel ushered in a peaceful, if at times, rocky transition to
democracy.

"One day when Cubans get their freedom they will face the same challenges,"
Gandalovic said during a meeting Wednesday with editors and reporters at
the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. "We have a lot of experience to
offer."

Cuban ruler Raúl Castro's recent economic reforms have been positive, he
said, "but we have no illusions that things have changed significantly" in
the government's respect for human rights.

The Czech Republic and its prior incarnation as Czechoslovakia have long
been strong supporters of Cuba's dissident and civil society groups,
hosting training sessions for them in Prague and giving them access to the
Internet at the embassy in Havana.

Several of the dissidents allowed to travel abroad after the Jan. 14 easing
of Cuba's migration controls were received in Prague by Foreign Minister
Jan Kohout and his predecessor, Karel Schwarzenberg.

Gandalovic was in Miami for Tuesday's kick-off of the Vaclav Havel
Initiative for Human Rights and Diplomacy as part of Florida International
University's School of International and Public Affairs.

The Initiative, designed to provide training, study programs, research and
policy analysis on democratic transitions around the world, will be headed
by the former Czech ambassador to the United States, Martin Palous.

Its first project will be "Preparing Miami for democratic transition in
Cuba," funded with a two year grant from the Knight Foundation, according
to an FIU announcement.

Tuesday's kickoff included a performance of the multimedia play Anticodes,
based on a collection of Havel's poetry and performed by the Czech
Republic's famous Laterna Magika theater troupe.

Gandalovic also joined a ceremony in Miami on Tuesday where the Cuban
Democratic Directorate awarded the "Pedro Luis Boitel Freedom" prize for
2013 to four anti-Castro activists, including one jailed for 37 years and a
former Bacardi president.

o Jose Manuel Rodriguez Navarro, an activist in the Eastern Democratic
Alliance, based in the eastern towns of Guantánamo and Baracoa, who was
arrested in October and sentenced to four years in prison for "social
pre-dangerousness."

o Armando Sosa Fortuny, who was jailed for fighting against the Castro
dictatorship from 1960 to 1978. He went into exile in Miami but returned in
1994 with four other armed exiles and was captured after a shootout in
which one Cuban was killed. Sosa Fortuny was sentenced to 30 years.

o Havana activist Julián Enrique Martínez Báez, secretary general of the
Cuban Human Rights Party, freed in 2006 after serving three years in
prison.

o Manuel Jorge Cutillas, a former president of Bacardi Limited and
descendant of the company's founder who was active for years in Cuban
democracy campaigns. He died in November at the age of 81.

The Boitel prize, created in 2001 by the Directorate and seven independent
groups from Eastern and Central Europe, is named after a Castro opponent
who was jailed in 1961 and died alter a lengthy jailhouse hunger strike in
1972.


Original Source / Fuente Original:
http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/12/11/3812606/czech-ambassador-says-his-countrys.html


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