CubaBrief: Castroism challenged in the island and at regional gathering by individuals who have lost their fear of the dictatorship

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Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet

The Wall Street Journal today published an OpEd by Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet that explores the reasons that Cubans went out in protest on July 11, 2021 and its significance.

What exactly are Cubans protesting? Many media outlets have focused on the government’s poor response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the dismal state of the Cuban economy and the lack of medicine and basic food. But this is misleading. The protests are fundamentally about repression. The protesters are demanding accountability and transparency from an autocratic, secretive government. They are demanding freedom of the press and religion from a regime built on propaganda and intolerant atheism. Put simply, the protests are a manifestation of the Cuban people’s resolve to end the 62-year-old communist dictatorship. According to one study, 74% of the protests were primarily related to political and civil rights, while the remaining 26% had to do with the economy.

Dr. Biscet begins the OpEd with a powerful anecdote, but his modesty left out an important detail.

“In 2010 Cuba’s Castro regime began releasing journalists and human rights activists, most of whom it had imprisoned seven years earlier during the Black Spring crackdown on political dissent. Upon release, most of the prisoners were exiled to Spain. But I refused to accept exile as the price of freedom. My refusal cost me another year in prison, but has since allowed me to witness courage and hope take root in a nation long mired in fear and despair.”

Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet is a courageous man. He has paid a high price for defending human rights in Cuba. He spent three years in prison from 1999 through October 31, 2002 for hanging a Cuban flag sideways in his home during an October 1999 press conference. This was the first time he was recognized as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. A little over a month after his release, on December 6, 2002 he was arrested again for organizing small teach-ins in private homes to share copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the concept of human rights and the Castro regime, in response, sentenced the good doctor to a 25-year prison sentence. This was the second time Amnesty International recognized him as a prisoner of conscience. Thanks to vigorous national and international campaigns he was freed on March 11, 2011. Otherwise he’d still be in prison waiting to be released in late 2027.

Between October 1999 and March 11, 2011, Dr. Biscet was free for the month of November 2002 and the first six days of December 2002. Eleven years in prison, and the last year served because he refused to go into exile. This is a man who recognizes bravery, and is seeing it now on display in his fellow citizens. He concludes his OpEd with the following observation.

Two chants heard often during the protests were “We are not afraid!” and “We are no longer afraid!” For decades, the best that many Cubans could hope for was to escape. But now, more and more of us are taking responsibility for reshaping our homeland. The protests have subsided for now, but the resolve to bring about a better life has been kindled in the hearts of the Cuban people. We won’t turn back. We are on the right path and the winds are in our favor.

Thankfully, we are seeing this courage in other venues. It has happened before, but rarely, and by one president at a time when it did, but this past weekend three Latin American presidents called out the Castro regime’s anti-democratic nature.

President Luis Lacalle of Uruguay said that in Venezuela, “there is no full democracy… Repression is used to quash protests, and the opposition is jailed.” … He also “said that [Cuba], along with Venezuela and Nicaragua, routinely violated people’s human rights. He also read out part of the lyrics of a song that became an anthem at unprecedented street protests in Cuba in July.”

It did not go unnoticed by Cubans in Uruguay, or in the rest of the world, but in Montevideo scores of Cubans residing there came to thank the Uruguayan President, and pay their respects.

“Cubans residing in Uruguay showed up [on Sunday, September 19, 2021] to thank President Luis Lacalle Poe’s solidarity with Cuba by revealing at the sixth summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) the dictatorial and oppressive nature of the island’s ruling regime. The demonstrators, members of Free Cuban Organizations in Uruguay and the Uruguayan Committee for Democracy in Cuba, gathered in Independence Square, the most important symbol of Montevideo, demanding greater freedom for the island nation, in addition to chants honoring the head of state and welcoming him home.

Nor was he the only Latin American president to speak out. President Mario Abdo Benitez of Paraguay denounced the illegitimate regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, but also defended norms for the entire region.

Sitting next to the Castro regime’s Díaz-Canel was President Guillermo Lasso of Ecuador who called for the respect of democracy, freedom, and citizen empowerment with liberty, transparent elections, and where freedom of expression, and human rights are respected.

Sebastian Arcos in his September 11, 2021 essay “Two Ways Out for a Decaying Cuba: Reinvention or Collapse” translated to English and published by Translating Cuba on September 16, 2021 makes an important observation of where the regime in Havana finds itself today.

In his essay “Totalitarian and Post-Totalitarian Regimes in Transition and Non-Transition from Communism” (2002), Mark R. Thompson describes the evolutionary process most of these regimes follow. According to his thesis, Cuba should now be moving from “frozen post-totalitarianism” to a “decomposing post-totalitarianism.” The final phase is characterized by intransigent and paralyzed leadership, ideological decadence, lack of political and economic legitimacy, widespread popular cynicism and increasingly counterproductive repression. Sound familiar? The theory holds that, once a regime begins decaying, it either reinvents itself or collapses.

The fiasco at the CELAC Summit with democratic presidents denouncing the despotic nature of the Castro dictatorship is another demonstration of the failure of the regime’s leadership and its increasing illegitimacy.

The Wall Street Journal, September 20, 2021

Cubans Want Freedom, Not Exile

Recent protests show the people’s resolve to end the communist dictatorship.

By Oscar Biscet

Sept. 19, 2021 4:22 pm ET

Havana

In 2010 Cuba’s Castro regime began releasing journalists and human rights activists, most of whom it had imprisoned seven years earlier during the Black Spring crackdown on political dissent. Upon release, most of the prisoners were exiled to Spain. But I refused to accept exile as the price of freedom. My refusal cost me another year in prison, but has since allowed me to witness courage and hope take root in a nation long mired in fear and despair.

In Cuba, there is no freedom of speech or assembly. Those who dare to speak out against the government’s abuses risk detention and worse.

That is why it was so inspiring to see the antigovernment protests that erupted spontaneously this summer throughout Cuba. Tens of thousands of my countrymen in more than 60 cities and towns participated. Most weren’t human rights advocates or democracy activists. They were ordinary Cubans: men and women; white, black and mestizo; young and old; rural and urban.

Everyone seems to know someone who protested—a family member, neighbor, friend or coworker. This has helped expose the government’s ridiculous lie that the protesters were U.S.-financed mercenaries.

The Cuban government responded as insecure, authoritarian police states do—with violence. Miguel Díaz-Canel, the head of Cuba’s government, issued commands for citizens to “battle” the protesters and urged communist loyalists to violently “defend” the revolution. “We call on all revolutionaries across the country, all communists, to take to the streets,” he said in a nationally televised address. “The order for combat has been given.”

Cuban security forces and civilian communists beat many protesters with clubs and sticks. By one estimate, more than 700 people are still being detained by the government, and perhaps dozens who were apprehended remain unaccounted for.

I asked friends across Cuba about their experiences with the protests. Several described seeing heavily armed, black-clad troops from the ministry of the interior raid their neighborhoods as if fighting a military insurgency.

A friend from San Antonio de Los Baños, the city south of Havana where the protests began, described walking into the streets to protest alone, then meeting a friend who joined him in shouting “Freedom!” and other antigovernment slogans. As they approached a park at the city center, they were encouraged to find “a rebellious crowd shouting against the regime.”

A friend from Bauta, a small town west of Havana, said at first he was hesitant to join because one of his three children had Covid-19 and he didn’t want to infect anyone. But thoughts of his children’s future made him reconsider. “I felt pleased with myself [for participating],” he said, adding ruefully, “Now I can die.”

What exactly are Cubans protesting? Many media outlets have focused on the government’s poor response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the dismal state of the Cuban economy and the lack of medicine and basic food. But this is misleading. The protests are fundamentally about repression. The protesters are demanding accountability and transparency from an autocratic, secretive government. They are demanding freedom of the press and religion from a regime built on propaganda and intolerant atheism. Put simply, the protests are a manifestation of the Cuban people’s resolve to end the 62-year-old communist dictatorship. According to one study, 74% of the protests were primarily related to political and civil rights, while the remaining 26% had to do with the economy.

The Castro regime modeled the Cuban government on the Soviet Union, and it was subsidized by the latter until its demise. Just like the U.S.S.R., Havana tries to control every aspect of its subjects’ lives. It’s an Orwellian state where citizens have been conditioned to distrust one another. Despair hangs heavy in the air. Even a whisper against the government can provoke harassment, beatings, detention and job loss, as it did for me, a physician, and my wife, Elsa, a nurse, after we began speaking out decades ago against the regime’s abuses.

In a country where the walls have ears, it’s easy to lose one’s voice. But that is changing. The regime is weak, and the people sense it. Two chants heard often during the protests were “We are not afraid!” and “We are no longer afraid!” For decades, the best that many Cubans could hope for was to escape. But now, more and more of us are taking responsibility for reshaping our homeland.

The protests have subsided for now, but the resolve to bring about a better life has been kindled in the hearts of the Cuban people. We won’t turn back. We are on the right path and the winds are in our favor.

Dr. Biscet is a physician and human-rights advocate.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/diaz-canel-cuba-havana-black-spring-protest-freedom-communism-biscet-human-rights-11632079329

The Tico Times, September 20, 2021

Venezuela’s Maduro sees legitimacy challenged in rare trip abroad

By AFP

September 20, 2021

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro hit back Saturday at challenges to his legitimacy as he attended a regional summit in his first trip abroad since the United States accused him of drug trafficking.

Maduro showed up at the last minute at a one-day meeting of the 33-member Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC.

In March 2020, the US Department of Justice accused Maduro of crimes including “narco-terrorism,” drug trafficking and possession of weapons, and offered $15 million for information leading to his arrest. 

The designation came as Donald Trump’s administration worked to help opposition leader Juan Guaido take power.

The Venezuelan president, who usually travels to close ally Cuba or to Caribbean countries, has avoided leaving his country after the reward was issued, and his trip to Mexico is the first of an official nature since then.

More than 50 countries, led by the United States, recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president. Guaido proclaimed himself as such in 2019 after Maduro claimed re-election in a vote widely dismissed as fraudulent.

During Saturday’s proceedings, the presidents of Uruguay and Paraguay — which are among those 50 — said their presence at the summit did not mean they recognize Maduro as president.

“There is no change in my government’s position and I think it is the gentlemanly thing to say so out loud,” Mario Abdo Benitez of Paraguay said in a speech to the gathered leaders, with Maduro seated just a few feet from him. Paraguay severed ties with Venezuela after Guaido declared himself president.

‘Bad taste in music’

President Luis Lacalle of Uruguay said that in Venezuela, “there is no full democracy… Repression is used to quash protests, and the opposition is jailed.”

Maduro, a leftist firebrand and former bus driver handpicked by the late Hugo Chavez, responded by challenging both of those presidents to a debate on democracy in his country and in Latin America in general.

“Name the date, the place and the time,” Maduro said, addressing the two leaders.

He invited them to come to his country and observe municipal elections on November 21, which the opposition has said it will take part in after boycotting voting for three years.

“Come see the dictator Maduro, how he convenes elections,” Maduro said. 

In the substantive part of the summit, some countries called for more equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines and the creation of a regional fund to help countries deal with natural disasters exacerbated by climate change.

But Cuba was also a flash point: Uruguay’s Lacalle said that this country, along with Venezuela and Nicaragua, routinely violated people’s human rights. He also read out part of the lyrics of a song that became an anthem at unprecedented street protests in Cuba in July.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said Lacalle’s remarks “show his ignorance of reality.” He said the song his counterpart cited is “a lie and a fabrication by some artists who are against the Cuban revolution.”

He added: “It seems President Lacalle has very bad taste in music.”

https://ticotimes.net/2021/09/20/venezuelas-maduro-sees-legitimacy-challenged-in-rare-trip-abroad

News Collective, September 20, 2021

Uruguayan Cubans thank Luis Lacalle for his solidarity at the CELAC Summit

By Blanche Soto

Cubans residing in Uruguay showed up this Sunday to thank President Luis Lacal Poe’s solidarity with Cuba by revealing at the sixth summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) the dictatorial and oppressive nature of the island’s ruling regime.

The demonstrators, members of Free Cuban Organizations in Uruguay and the Uruguayan Committee for Democracy in Cuba, gathered in Independence Square, the most important and symbol of Montevideo, chanting slogans demanding greater freedom for the Antilles, in addition to chants and glorification of the head of state who welcomes them.

“For being the voice of millions of oppressed Cubans, for upholding the commitment to democracy and human rights, and for Selak’s dignified standing in the face of the silence of so many complicit, thank you Luis! Thank you, Uruguay!” Read the event announcement, which was also attended by Uruguayan supporters of the Cuban cause, and at Banners held by some protesters.

This Saturday, at the meeting of Heads of State and Government of the Sixth CELAC Summit, held in Mexico, the President of Uruguay revealed the dictatorial regimes on the continent, which violate the spirit of democratic integration of multilateral organizations such as CELAC himself and OAS.

https://www.newscollective.co.nz/uruguayan-cubans-thank-luis-lacalle-for-his-solidarity-at-the-celac-summit/

The Washington Post, September 18, 2021

World

Latin American leaders divided on OAS at regional meeting

By Associated Press

September 18, 2021 at 3:53 p.m. EDT
MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wants to leave questions of human rights and democracy to the United Nations, as part of his continuing criticisms of the Organization of American States.

López Obrador spoke Saturday at the meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC, which includes almost all countries in the region except Brazil. Unlike the OAS, the U.S. and Canada don’t belong to CELAC.

The summit took up questions plaguing the region, like mass migration and the coronavirus pandemic. But some leaders angered by the OAS’ criticism of leftist regimes in the region have hoped CELAC could replace it.

López Obrador has suggested the OAS is interventionist and a tool of the United States. But he did not formally propose leaving the organization. Rather, he opposed any kind of sanctions and said questions of human rights and democracy should only be considered if a country accused of violations requests that.

“Controversies over democracy and human rights should be worked out in truly neutral forums created by the countries of the Americas, and the last word should be left to the specialized agencies of United Nations,” López Obrador said.

The President of Uruguay, Luis Lacalle, defended the OAS.

“You can disagree with how it is managed, but you cannot discount the organization,” said Lacalle, who also openly and by name criticized Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua for anti-democratic practices.

El Salvadoran Vice President Felix Ulloa criticized what he called “partisan” behavior in the OAS, but noted “we are not expecting nor do we think that a substitute will emerge from this.”

Panama’s Foreign Relations Minister, Erika Mouynes, called attention to the region’s problem of migration. Mouynes said that while only about 800 migrants were entering Panama a few months ago — mainly from Colombia — now about 20,000 are arriving every month. Panama is struggling to feed and care for the influx.

“This phenomenon can only be handled in a regional manner,” Mouynes said.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was one of the unexpected leaders who arrived late Friday in Mexico City for the meeting. This is his first trip outside Venezuela since the U.S. government indicted him on drug trafficking and terrorism charges in March 2020, and offered a reward of up to $15 million for him.

Maduro challenged Uruguay’s Lacalle to a debate on democracy.

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel railed against the criticism of his country’s crackdown on protests in July. He called the demonstrations “an opportunistic campaign of slander, financed by U.S. federal funds and which still threatens the stability, integrity and sovereignty of my country.”

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, who U.S. prosecutors have signaled as having funded his political ascent with bribes from drug traffickers, spoke in a lengthy defense of his record. He has not been formally charged, and accused the DEA of having employed drug traffickers who testified about his alleged drug ties.

“There has been a tsunami, and avalanche of false testimonies,” Hernández said.

He has denied any wrongdoing. His brother, former federal lawmaker Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, was sentenced in New York in March to life in prison.

Newly inaugurated Peruvian President Pedro Castillo gave a fairly moderate address in his first summit appearance since taking office, focusing on Peru’s status as one of the countries with the world’s highest COVID-19 death tolls, which Castillo put at “more than 200,000.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a taped message to the meeting that “China will continue to provide assistance to Latin American and Caribbean countries to the best of its ability, to help them defeat the virus at an early date.” Chinese coronavirus vaccines have been used by some countries in the region.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/latin-american-leaders-divided-on-oas-at-regional-meeting/2021/09/18/11b2ae56-18a4-11ec-a019-cb193b28aa73_story.html

14ymedio, September 16, 2021

Two Ways Out for a Decaying Cuba: Reinvention or Collapse

September 16, 2021

By Sebastian Arcos Cazabon

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in San Antonio de los Baños, where the July 11 protests began. (EFE)

14ymedio, Sebastian Arcos Cazabon, Havana, September 11, 2021 — The brutal repression following the popular protests of July 11 seems to have stabilized the political situation in Cuba. However, the regime must understand that, despite its long history of repression, the current calm is fragile. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost, the protests broke a very important psychological barrier: the conviction — meticulously cultivated by Fidel Castro for decades — that publicly demonstrating against the regime was impossible and pointless. When that dam broke in Eastern Europe, it signaled the beginning of the end for Marxist totalitarianism there.

The second reason is that the causes underlying the protests will not go away anytime soon. The regime has lost almost all political legitimacy and, when it comes to economics, is intrinsically incompetent The Cuban people no longer believe in the official dogma and know that their situation will not improve under the Cuban Communist Party. To make matters worse, the Covid-19 health crisis has reinforced the image that the regime is inept and intolerant. The popular rebellion has now spread even to the public health sector. The third reason is that, despite their declarations of solidarity, neither Russia nor China is willing to support a destitute and parasitic regime.

It is clear that Raul Castro’s policy of continuity is unsustainable. The regime is at a crossroads, its ruling class paralyzed, clinging to repression and reluctant to adopt serious reforms. The opposition has been radicalized because, rather than extinguishing it, the wave of repression has only added fuel to the fire. This is a bad omen for Cuba’s communist oligarchs.

In his essay “Totalitarian and Post-Totalitarian Regimes in Transition and Non-Transition from Communism” (2002), Mark R. Thompson describes the evolutionary process most of these regimes follow. According to his thesis, Cuba should now be moving from “frozen post-totalitarianism” to a “decomposing post-totalitarianism.” The final phase is characterized by intransigent and paralyzed leadership, ideological decadence, lack of political and economic legitimacy, widespread popular cynicism and increasingly counterproductive repression. Sound familiar? The theory holds that, once a regime begins decaying, it either reinvents itself or collapses.

With the Cuban regime at a crossroads, academic literature points to several possible options it has for reinvention. This is not a matter of making predictions but rather about applying lessons from the past to current circumstances. In addition to Thompson’s essay, there is another important analytical reference: Samuel P. Huntington’s classic The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late 20h Century, published in 1991.

 The Chinese Model

Known in academic literature as “post-totalitarian hybrid” or “market Leninism,” this alternative requires a pragmatic leadership that accepts the need for improving people’s quality of life in order to insure the continued political dominance of the communist party. This is achieved by replacing the centralized economic model for one which favors the free market and private property. This would be the worst option for the democratic opposition because, as in China and Vietnam, it would guarantee the communist party’s hold on power. If there are supporters of this approach within the party, they have been silenced by Raul Castro’s hardline faction. In addition to political pragmatism, this alternative requires speed and determination, three ingredients which the country’s oligarchs do not currently seem to have in abundance. I believe the probability of this option being chosen is low.

 Controlled Transition to Democracy (and the Rule of Law)

Defined by Samuel Huntington as “transformation,” this option consists of a deliberate transition to free elections and full democracy initiated and controlled, from start to finish, by the regime. According to Huntington, half of the thirty-five transitions that occurred between 1975 and 1991, such as those in Spain and Chile, were these types of transformations.

This approach has benefits for everyone. On the one hand, it avoids violence by funneling all internal and external interests and actors in the same direction. On the other hand, the ruling class does not have to pick up the tab and ends up in a more advantageous economic and political position than the opposition. This option requires a powerful reformist faction within the regime that would prevail over the hardline faction, something that does not seem realistic in today’s Cuba. Unless the balance of power changes radically, I believe this is unlikely to occur.

Tolerated Authoritarianism (Putinism)

Academic literature also points to the possibility that one system can be set aside, either deliberately or unexpectedly, in favor of a different system. For example, the transformation initiated by Gorbachev in the USSR was interrupted by a military coup that tried to reverse it.* The coup’s failure quickly led to a democratic replacement (a “transplant,” according to Huntington).

The Cuban regime could begin a limited transformation in hopes of convincing a pragmatic U.S. administration to accept an authoritarian regime in exchange for political stability on the island. If the United States blesses this transformation with diplomatic and economic normalization, the regime could freeze the process and remain in power as an authoritarian Putin-style kleptocracy.

This option is viable because it plays on the fear, shared in certain American military and intelligence circles, that a collapse of the regime would turn Cuba into a failed state, preyed upon by drug traffickers and terrorists. According to this hypothesis, which has the hallmarks of having been planted by Cuban intelligence, it would better suit U.S. interests to reach an understanding with the regime than to contribute to its collapse.

This option is very attractive to Cuba’s oligarchs because it can be implemented relatively quickly and without the significant economic or political changes required by the first two. On the other hand, the disadvantage is that authoritarianism is more vulnerable to political winds than totalitarianism. A robust democratic opposition could force a transplant, thwarting the oligarch’s plans and turning the limited transformation into a full-blown transition. Although this scenario presents the regime with more uncontrollable variables — it depends, for example, on who happens to be governing the United States at the time or how effective activist Cuban exiles turn out to be — I believe it is a more likely outcome than the first two.

Continuity or Collapse 

The worst outcome for everyone would be if the regime decided to continue following its current course of repression and limited reform. As previously discussed, this option would resolve none of the chronic problems that led to the July 11 protests. Sooner or later, the people will return to the streets and the regime will be forced to either ramp up its repression to intolerable levels or give up power. A vicious cycle of growing opposition followed by more repression followed by more opposition is unsustainable and could end in civil war, as happened in Romania in 1989.** Even if the pro-Castro elites were inclined to unleash rivers of blood, the tragic end of Nicolai and Elena Ceausescu should give them pause.

Finally, those hoping for U.S. military intervention should consider the example of Afghanistan. Setting aside the damage foreign intervention would cause to Cuban nationalism, events in Afghanistan demonstrate how little appetite the United States currently has for foreign military adventures. On top of that, the obvious incompetence of the Biden administration in handling a matter of utmost importance to U.S. national security should be enough to rule out the idea of an interventionist option for Cuba. Among the insiders, incompetence abounds.

Translator’s notes:

*Though the military was involved, the attempted coup was actually led by eight senior officials from the Soviet government, Communist Party and KGB.

 **Spontaneous mass protests led to the overthrow of Nicolai Ceausescu on December 22, 1989. He and his wife Elena were executed three days later after a summary trial. The provisional government subsequently promised free and fair elections, which took place five months later. While thousands died or were injured in the course of the uprising, the event might better be described as a brief period of violent civil unrest rather than a civil war.

https://translatingcuba.com/two-ways-out-for-a-decaying-cuba-reinvention-or-collapse/

From the Archives

Amnesty International, February 23, 2000

AI Index: AMR 25/05/00

23 February 2000

Further information on EXTRA 161/99 (AMR 25/41/99, 12 November 1999 and follow-ups (AMR 25/42/99, 19 November 1999; AMR 25/43/99, 2 December 1999)
– Prisoner of conscience / Arbitrary arrests

CUBA

Dr. Oscar Elías BISCET GONZÁLEZ, human rights activist, prisoner of conscience
New names: Fermín SCULL ZULUETA, possible prisoner of conscience
Eduardo DÍAZ FLEITAS, possible prisoner of conscience

Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet González is due to be tried on 25 February 2000 and the Attorney General has reportedly requested a seven year prison sentence. Amnesty International is calling for his immediate and unconditional release as a prisoner of conscience.

Oscar Biscet, President of the Fundación Lawton de Derechos Humanos, Lawton Foundation for Human Rights, was arrested on 3 November 1999 and originally charged with “ultraje a los símbolos de la patria”, “insult to the symbols of the homeland”. This was apparently because a Cuban flag was hung sideways
in his home during an October press conference. The prosecutor’s petition, issued in February, includes two further charges: “desordenes públicos”, “public disorder”, and “instigación a delinquir”, “instigation to commit a crime”.

Two other dissidents arrested in the run-up to the November Ibero-American Summit in Havana are to be tried by the same court on the same day as Oscar Biscet. Eduardo Díaz Fleitas, vice-president of the illegal Movimiento 5 de agosto, 5 August Movement, and Fermín Scull Zulueta were arrested in Havana
on 10 November, at a demonstration that had begun peacefully in Dolores Park.

According to the government newspaper, Granma, they were carrying “placards that offended the country and stirred up the crowd” (carteles que ofendían al país e irritaban a la concurrencia). The newspaper claimed the men were holding a banner calling for “justice” (“justicia”) for children that are
“killed” (“asesinados”), apparently a reference to abortion. A crowd of government supporters reportedly attacked and beat the pair, who have both reportedly been charged with “public disorder”. The prosecutor has reportedly requested sentences of one year for Eduardo Díaz Fleitas and four years for
Fermín Scull Zulueta. According to Cuban government statements, both men have previous convictions.

However, Amnesty International has not been able to obtain information on the exact charges on which they were previously convicted and is investigating their cases to determine whether they are prisoners of conscience.

FURTHER RECOMMENDED ACTION:

Please send telexes/faxes/express/airmail letters in Spanish or your own language:

– asking for the immediate and unconditional release of Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet González, on the grounds that he is a prisoner of conscience detained solely
for peacefully attempting to exercise his right to freedom of expression, association and assembly;
– urging that two possible prisoners of conscience, Eduardo Díaz Fleitas and Fermín Scull Zulueta, be either released or tried according to international
standards.

APPEALS TO:

Attorney-General
Dr. Juan Escalona Reguera
Attorney General of the Republic
Attorney General of the Republic
San Rafael 3, Havana, Cuba
Telexes: 511456 fisge
Faxes: + 53 7 66 94 85
Salutation: Mr. Attorney General / Dear Attorney General

Minister of Foreign Affairs
Mr. Felipe Pérez Roque
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Relations
Calzada No. 360, Vedado, Havana, Cuba
Telexes: 511122/511464/512950
Faxes: + 53 7 33 3085/33 3460
Salutation: Mr. Minister / Dear minister

Minister of the Interior
General Abelardo Colomé Ibarra
Minister of the Interior
Ministry of the Interior
Plaza de la Revolución, Havana, Cuba
Faxes: + 53 7 335261
Salutation: Señor Ministro / Dear Minister

COPIES TO:
National Union of Jurists
National Union of Jurists
Apartado 4161
La Habana 4, Cuba

Editor of Granma (daily newspaper)
Sr Jacinto Granda de Laserna
Granma, Apdo 6260, Havana, Cuba

and to diplomatic representatives of Cuba accredited to your country.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat,
or your section office, if sending appeals after 22 March 2000.

https://www.amnesty.org/es/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/amr250062000en.pdf

The Village Voice, June 7, 2005

Castro’s Black Prisoner

by Nat Hentoff

June 7, 2005

Screen Shot 2021-09-20 at 7.32.10 PM.png

Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet

Congressman Charles Rangel—a frequent, forthright defender of civil liberties on national television—has long been a paladin of black political and human rights in this country. He also worked to help remove South Africa’s apartheid government, and he has been arrested at the Sudanese embassy in Washington for protesting the continuing genocide in Darfur.

Because of his record, I was surprised when—as nonviolent Cubans had the courage to gather in Havana on May 20 for the first public mass meeting for their freedom during Castro’s 46-year dictatorship—Rangel was among the only 22 members of the House of Representatives who voted against a resolution (392 in favor) supporting this “historic meeting.”

Then, as noted in last week’s column, Rangel attacked American politicians who “refuse to give the [Castro] government the respect that it deserves.” And he dismissed the Cubans defying the dictator—who, in 2003, locked up for long sentences more than 70 dissenters.

Said Rangel: “I don’t think it helps to be supporting insurgents overthrowing the [Castro] government.”

In view of this strange position for a passionate opponent of repressive governments, I asked several people who know Rangel if they could explain it. They were as surprised as I was, and couldn’t.

But since Rangel also recommended reaching out to Fidel rather than “isolating” the people of Cuba, I have a suggestion as to how he himself can do just that. Surely Fidel would welcome this supportive, highly visible, anti-Bush-administration congressman if Charles Rangel were to go to Cuba to ask about one of the dissidents whom Amnesty International designates “a prisoner of conscience”—and who was named president of honor at the May 20 meeting of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Havana.

In its March 18, 2005 report on these prisoners, Amnesty cites “Oscar Elías Biscet González, 43. Sentence: 25 years . . . Prison: Combinado del Este Prison, Havana.”

This is not the first time Dr. Biscet, a black physician, has been put away. When he was on the outside, as head of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights, Biscet was locked up for three years for “disrespecting patriotic symbols.” At a news conference, this follower of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and the Dalai Lama committed the disgraceful crime of hanging a Cuban flag upside down. What sentence would Charles Rangel have given him?

Then in 2002, as Mary Anastasia O’Grady—a valuable chronicler of human rights abuses in Latin America—reported in the May 6, 2005, Wall Street Journal:

“Dr. Biscet’s plan to create small groups meeting in private homes to promote human rights landed him in jail again and he received a 25-year sentence.”

She noted that the website free-biscet.org reported that since Biscet was put away, “he has staged protests against Cuba’s violation of human rights at the prison with acts of civil disobedience, such as fasting and holding prayer services.”

During one of those acts of civil disobedience—his wife, Elsa Morejón Hernández, says—Dr. Biscet was among the prisoners who shouted, “Down with the Castro-Communist dictatorship.” Like civil rights fighters in the United States and South Africa, Dr. Biscet has refused to cower in his cell, and at times that’s been one of Castro’s “punishment cells.”

In these windowless three-foot-wide underground rectangular cells, the toilet is a hole in the floor; there is no access to light and no water, except that provided by the guard at his considerably less than compassionate discretion. As a political prisoner, moreover, Dr. Biscet often is forced to share his cell with nonpolitical inmates, some of whom have committed violent crimes.

Last year, according to an article on free-biscet.org, he was deprived of food rations for periods of time. “The family found Dr. Biscet’s high blood pressure under control [he also has severe digestive disorders] but found him very thin, having lost around 60 pounds of body weight since his incarceration in Prison Kilo 8. [He has since been transferred to the Havana cell named above by Amnesy International.] His teeth are totally deteriorated due to the dire prison conditions he has suffered . . . and lack of medical attention which he refuses to accept because he distrusts the intentions of the military medical personnel at the prison.”

Himself a doctor, Biscet is aware that the priority of military doctors at a prison is not the state of the patients but the commands they receive from their political superiors.

For example, consider the medical care of the American detainees, as reported in “The Abu Ghraib Scandal You Don’t Know” by Adam Zagorin in Time magazine (February 14, 2005): “[T]he medical system at the prison became an instrument of abuse, by design and by neglect.”

Dr. Biscet finds ways to send messages from his cell, among them “My conscience and my spirit are well.” As Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes, “Perhaps his worst transgression is his courage, which makes him a dangerous inspiration to the many Cubans that are now organizing in small groups [throughout the country].”

Charles Rangel could be an inspiration to prisoners of conscience not only in Cuba but in other nations—and to the “ghost prisoners” whose names we do not know, and who are held in secret locations around the world by the CIA—if he went to Havana and spoke to Fidel Castro about Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet.

Fidel is an imposing presence, but so is Charles Rangel. In reaching out to Castro, the congressman could ask to see Dr. Biscet. In that small cell, Charles Rangel could provide this unbreakable black prisoner with reminiscences of another man of conscience and courage—Dr. Martin Luther King.

But now, New York City councilman Charles Barron—who once feted Zimbabwe’s brutal dictator, Robert Mugabe, at City Hall—says of Castro (The New York Sun, May 26): “He is a true champion of human rights worldwide.” What world is Barron living in?

https://www.villagevoice.com/2005/06/07/castros-black-prisoner/