Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček was only 8 years old when the Velvet Revolution of 1989 brought freedom to his country and an end to communist rule.
Through his work as a diplomat – and as a student of international relations with three master’s degrees and a doctorate in the field – Petříček said he is aware of how his country’s long road to democracy serves as a beacon of hope for others around the world.
It should not be surprising to anyone, he explained, that his government would have an interest in – and support for – the pro-democracy movement in Cuba.
“While we come from a different cultural and social background, our own historical experience enables us to understand the current political challenges in Cuba,’’ he said. “We will never cease in our efforts to prevent human rights abuses in and improve the prosperity and the lives of the people of Cuba.’’
Petříček spoke at the launch of a new initiative on Cuba at FIU – created through the Václav Havel Program for Human Rights & Diplomacy, a part of the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs.
“I am so pleased that the program – IDEAS for Cuba – will be housed within a center that bears the name of our first Czech president and the symbol of peaceful democratic transition, Václav Havel,’’ Petříček said. “His legacy remains important as an inspiration and anchor for our foreign policy today.”
The project – Initiative for Democratic and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS) for Cuba – is a collaboration between FIU, the Inspire America Foundation, the Václav Havel Library in Prague and the Center on Global Economic Governance at Columbia University.
IDEAS for Cuba will focus on four key areas – diplomacy, economics, law and the historical context of democratic transitions – to explore alternatives for Cuba’s future, said Martin Palouš, director of the Havel program at FIU.
“This new program will certainly not start from zero,’’ said Palouš, a former dissident and friend of Václav Havel who served as ambassador of the Czech Republic to the United States and the United Nations.
“It will call upon my experiences as a diplomat and a dissident, as well as the experiences of so many others in this room,’’ he said. “We take this program seriously … and I believe it can make a difference.’’
Marcell Felipe, a Miami attorney and the co-founder of Inspire America, said he looks forward to a time when he and other Cubans and Cuban Americans can “have coffee in a free Cuba” without fear of the government looking over their shoulders.
He said the experience of the Czech Republic is an inspiration and “an example’’ but cautioned that the IDEAS project is not intended to create a prescription for democracy in Cuba.
“We are not here to provide a blueprint for what should happen in Cuba, that is for Cubans to decide,’’ he explained. “We are here to provide some answers and some recommendations. This is not a political exercise, it’s an academic exercise.”
John F. Stack, founding dean of the Green School, agreed, noting that the Havel program at FIU has worked in this area for many years.
“Since the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the Czech Republic has been one of the staunchest defenders of human rights around the globe – including in Cuba,’’ he said. “We are united in our desire to see a peaceful transition to democracy and freedom for Cuba, and we remain focused on bringing lessons from the Czech experience to the struggle for democracy in Cuba.’’