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Czech Republic: Havel Seeks Closer Ties With Latin America

Prague, 19 September 1996 (RFE/RL) - Czech President Vaclav Havel today will become the first non-Latin American president to address the Latin American Parliament in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo.

The Czech president is on a two-week tour of Latin America, which, in addition to Brazil, will take him to Chile, Uruguay and Argentina.

Earlier this week, on arrival in the capital Brasilia, Havel told Brazilian President Fernand Henrique Cardos that the Czech Republic wants to create closer ties with South America in economic and cultural fields.

Venezuela's ambassador to the Czech Republic, German Carrera Damas, told RFE/RL, that Havel's trip to Latin America is important, and not only because he is the president of a country.

"He's a humanist and we admire him very much as an intellectual, not just a politician," he said.

Damas said Havel is "trying to teach people that not only the economic values are important, also the moral and ethical values are important and (especially so) for a country that is trying to change its way of life."

Like Havel, Damas is an accomplished writer, having published many books on the history of Latin American countries. But he says, "they are not as important as President Havel's."

The Venezuelan embassy in Prague has taken the lead in trying to establish a Czech-Latin American center in the city. Damas said the cultural center is an effort to promote personal contact between representatives of Latin American countries and the Czech Republic.

"There is a need for personal contacts. That's very important, to see how people live, how societies function. It's not just about information," Damas said.

Dinorah Frometa Lorenz, a cultural attache at the Venezuelan embassy, has been in charge of developing the center. Lorenz said the center will open next month at its temporary headquarters at the Academy of Sciences in Prague. Eventually, the center is to have a permanent site in the city.

"There's a lot of interest in Latin America, in everything to do with Latin America (in the Czech Republic)," Lorenz said.

Raul Soroza, an Ecuadorian journalist based in Prague and one of the center's organizers, said Czechs and Latin Americans have a lot of misconceptions about one another.

"People in our country still believe this is Czechoslovakia and is communist and that's not the truth and it's the same here. Not all Colombians are drug dealers and drug barons and we must teach that. They don't know we have Nobel Prize winners," he said.

The center will provide a place where Czechs and Latinos can meet, exchange viewpoints on culture and business and gain a truer image of their respective countries. He said the center could also provide a spark for the formation of joint-venture projects between Czech and Latin American businesses.

The center would organize trips to schools, where speakers would talk to students about particular Latin American countries. Theater groups, authors and experts will be brought to the center to interact with Czechs.