Dissidents in Cuba
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March 2006
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Smuggled photos lay Havana bare

Smuggled photos lay Havana bare
By Bruce I. Konviser
Published March 1, 2006

PRAGUE — A set of photos showing the suffering of Cuban AIDS victims
and the squalid conditions in a Havana shantytown went on display here
last week after having been smuggled out of Cuba by a Czech fashion model.
Helena Houdova, whose face has graced the covers of numerous
magazines, and her friend Mariana Kroftova, who is identified in news
reports as a psychologist and sometimes model, complained they were held
for 11 hours and denied access to Czech consular officials after being
arrested for taking the pictures while visiting the island.
The Czech women were detained while photographing a slum outside of
Havana on Jan. 23. Authorities confiscated a roll of 35 mm film from
Miss Kroftova’s camera, but Miss Houdova managed to save her photos by
slipping the memory chip from her digital camera into her bra.
A diplomatic ruckus over the arrests simply increased interest in
the photo exhibit, which opened officially on Saturday in a gallery just
off Prague’s Wenceslas Square. Miss Houdova hopes soon to bring the two
dozen or so photos for an exhibit in the United States.
The model, a former Miss Czech Republic who runs a charity in New
York that supports disadvantaged children in nine countries, said at the
opening that the Cuban people are repressed and Fidel Castro’s
government is in denial.
“People can’t do what they love. People can’t speak what they
want,” she said in an interview. “That’s what’s happening. The fact that
the [government] says there is no poverty” only makes a bad situation
worse, she said.
Among those who turned out to applaud Miss Houdova’s derring-do,
and to remind people of the grim realities of communism, was the Czech
Republic’s most famous former dissident, Vaclav Havel.
Mr. Havel, who was Czech president until 2003, said it would be
easy enough for Miss Houdova to focus on her modeling career while
ignoring those less-fortunate.
“I very [much] admire this work,” he told The Washington Times.
“She is engaged in human rights in different spheres, and she was also
in Cuba and made these photos. I think it is very respectable.”
Miss Houdova said her biggest fear during her detention was not for
her own well-being but for that of her Cuban guide, the wife of a
leading dissident, who could have been jailed indefinitely. So far that
has not happened.
Miss Houdova said the guide urged her to “please talk about it
everywhere you can, and let the world know what is happening here.” The
photo exhibition, which she hopes to bring to several U.S. cities in
addition to Washington, is Miss Houdova’s way of fulfilling that request.
The Czech People in Need Foundation backed the models’ trip, and
the funds raised from the sale of photos in Prague will go into its SOS
Cuba program, which aids the country’s dissidents.
While Miss Houdova expressed relief that her Cuban friend is not in
jail, the foundation’s Nikola Horejs was more cautious.
He said life has gotten more difficult for Cuba’s dissidents and
their families since a sweep in 2003 landed 75 journalists, doctors and
other regime opponents in jail.
The Cuban government is increasingly sensitive to negative
publicity, he said. “They know very well how to do this thing. They wait
a bit, and then slowly, step by step, harass these people and try to
make them leave the country.”
Both Mr. Havel and Mr. Horejs said the European Union should put
more pressure on the Cuban government. Mr. Havel said the former
communist countries that are now EU members — the Czech Republic,
Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and the three Baltic states of
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — are the ones who should push the union
toward a tougher stand.
“Europe could do more,” Mr. Havel said. “And I think that our
countries, with our experience, have to press the whole European Union.”


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