Czech top model Helena Houdova, who was arrested in Cuba last week while taking photographs of Havana’s slums, told journalists that she will display the pictures she took at an exhibition portraying the island not only as a tourist paradise but also as a land of political oppression.
Houdova, Miss Czech Republic 1999, spoke to journalists today after returning from Cuba.
“The revolution’s watchmen rose up because I was taking pictures of something they do not like,” said the top model, referring to the fact that the Communist regime of Fidel Castro denies the existence of slums on the island.
Houdova was arrested along with psychologist and fellow model Mariana Kroftova. The two women spent 11 hours in police custody.
They were not allowed to contact the Czech embassy throughout their arrest and could not communicate with their jailers in English. They in vain requested medical attention.
Upon their release, the women were requested to sign a statement saying they would not travel beyond Havana. They remained under police surveillance until their departure from the island.
The women received the support of locals, as well as of Czech embassy employees.
The Cuban police confiscated the roll of film that was in the Czech women’s camera. However, Houdova managed to conceal the memory card of her digital camera inside her brassiere.
The pictures she thus saved will be included in an exhibition Houdova plans to organise together with People in Need (PINF), a Czech non-governmental humanitarian relief organisation with a track record of supporting Cuba’s pro-democracy opposition.
Houdova said the exhibition should portray Cuba not only as a country with beautiful nature, interesting architecture and a captivating atmosphere but also as a state where people are imprisoned for their beliefs.
Houdova said her meetings with dissidents, the wives of political prisoners, as well as with ordinary Cubans during her ten-day stay in Cuba made her recollect her childhood in Communist Czechoslovakia.
“I am not an expert on the political situation in Cuba but I think some kind of change is necessary there,” she said.
Houdova went to Cuba to find out whether her Sunflower foundation could assist the local children - orphans, the handicapped or those afflicted with AIDS. She pointed out that it is almost impossible to provide any assistance through official means because the Communist authorities refuse to admit anything in their country does not work.
However, Houdova personally ascertained the pathetic situation in several Cuban hospitals.
Although Houdova admitted she cannot predict how long Fidel Castro will manage to maintain his totalitarian regime on the island, she said she believes Cubans will soon live to experience liberty as have Czechs.
For the past two years, Houdova has been living mostly in New York and Los Angeles where she works as a model. At the same time, she tries to raise funds to help physically or socially handicapped children in different countries around the world.
The Czech Foreign Ministry has summoned the Cuban charge d’affairs in Prague to explain the conduct of the Cuban authorities in arresting the two Czech women.
The case provides additional evidence of the frosty nature of official Czech-Cuban political relations. Cuban officials have in the past described the Czech Republic as a lackey of the United States.