I learned of the existence of Dr. Elias Biscet through a friend who has faith in this doctor and former political prisoner, considered by some to be the keystone to a democratic transition in Cuba.
The doctor was recently freed after 11 years in prison and amid the thick smoke of a major media event, I managed to wrest some pieces of information here and there to at least get an idea of where things might be headed. I summarize here what I found.
Wikipedia offers the fundamental events of his natural and political life up until March of 2011 – superficial information to be sure, but good enough for a first approximation. From there I learned that Oscar Elias Biscet (OEB):
• Was born in 1961 in Havana
• Graduated as a doctor in 1985
• Began a labor protest one year later against the excess of unpaid work that doctors in Cuba must perform.
• At the end of the eighties, he initiated his first civic struggles against government abuses.
• In 1997 he founded the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights that bases its actions on non-violent civil disobedience.
• At the end of the 90s he developed and published a study denouncing the use of the drug Rivanol to provoke abortions. This caused him to be fired from the National Health System.
• At this time he began a hunger strike, the authorities responded by accusing him of disturbing the peace. He was sentenced to 3 years in jail.
• He was released in 2002, only to be jailed anew in 2003 and condemned to 25 years in prison.
• Four years later, the US government awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom and he was later nominated for the Prince of Asturias Prize (2009)
• Following his release after 11 years of prison, and in contrast to many of his companions in the struggle, he decided to remain in Cuba to continue non-violent resistance.
A view from the “Red” side
The image of the doctor that Wiki offers is quite an attractive one; now let’s hear the view from the “Red” side.
In an article titled “Portrait of a Mercenary: Oscar Elias Biscet” that can be viewed on the web page “Rebelión” the author, Percy Francisco Alvarado Godoy, ex-agent of the Cuban State Security, says that OEB is a media construction put together by the enemies of the revolution.
Alvarado tells how in 1997 the Nationalist Democratic Party of Cuba, with its headquarters in Miami, gave Biscet 10,000 dollars in the form of the Champion of Liberty Award; and that he was honored with a luncheon attended by terrorists of Cuban origin. Later, he affirms that the National Republican Institute channeled $1,600,000 to Dr. Biscet in the form of another award. It’s such an enormous sum that it makes me wonder. Numbers are easy to invent.
According to the agent, OEBs resume includes congratulatory letters from George W. Bush, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. And during his time out of jail in 2003 he maintained relations with the head of the US Interests Section and other North Americans linked to USAID and the CIA.
The part about Bush at least seems certain, because Biscet himself affirms this in an interview that I’ll speak of later.
Finally, the agent concludes that Biscet is politically linked to the ultra-right, an assurance based on:
• His admiration for Margaret Thatcher the former British prime minister and the German leader A. Merkel.
• His alliance with right-wing politicians in the US.
• His hard-line criticisms of Obama’s tepid steps toward relaxing the Blockade.
I harbor a great deal of distrust towards biased and demagogic articles such as this one (you’d have to read it to understand this well). It’s probable that some part of what it says is true, but I’m not sure how much.
I discovered another piece in the same ideological vein, but a little more serious, titled “Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet: Champion of what, and of what freedom? “, posted by someone who calls herself Mariana. This explains in detail the specific laws that the doctor supposedly violated:
a) Article 91 of the Cuban Penal Code, Law 62, enacted in 1987: This law penalizes “Actions against the independence or territorial integrity of the State” and specifies, “he who undertakes an action in the interests of a foreign state in order to provoke an effect detrimental to the independence of the Cuban State or the integrity of its territory incurs as a sanction the privation of liberty for 10-20 years, or death.”
b) Articles of Law #88 for the Protection of National Independence and the Cuban Economy, the Cuban response to the Helms-Burton law act.
c) Article 5.1 “Whoever seeks out information to be utilized in the application of the Helm-Burton law, the blockade or the economic war against our people, intended to rupture the internal order, destabilize the country and destroy the Socialist State and Cuban independence will incur the sanction of privation of liberty.”
d) “Article 6.1: Whoever accumulates, reproduces and distributes materials of a subversive nature from the United States Government, its agencies, dependencies, representatives, functionaries or from any foreign entity in support of the objectives of the Helms-Burton law, the blockade and the war will incur….”
And the article highlights the proof presented by the District Attorney’s office in the trial where he was sentenced to 25 years in prison:
“He was found to be holding an “Official pass for free access,” signed by the Section Chief good for entry at any hour of the day or night into any part of the US Interests Section in Havana.
“Photos and videos of meetings and parties with Frank Calzón (head of the US Interests Section), other functionaries linked to USAID and Ms. Vicky Huddleston (Functionary of the US Interests Section and founder of small opposition groups in Cuba.)”
In these matters, I let common sense be my guide, and I really can’t see how these items constitute proof of the violation of the articles presented above. His closeness to these functionaries of the Empire is certainly a delicate matter, but there is a great distance from there to a sentence that would have him rot his life away in jail and provoke so many international problems for this country.
Interview with Biscet
I could gain some insight into the supposed politics of the doctor through an interview that he recently offered to the readers of Diario de Cuba. Through this article, I learned that OEB:
• Is critical of the government of the Castro brothers for their “violation of basic human rights.”
• In that line, he exhorts “urgent changes towards democratization and freedom in the country, including all Cubans,” and also urges “the right to equal protection before the law; the right to guaranteed judicial process and a fair trial.”
• He believes that the government should facilitate “closer relations between Cubans on the island and those in exile with patience, tolerance and wisdom towards the future goal of finding union in common desires.”
• He is not concerned about informants, since his work is “public and humanitarian.”
• He requests respect for “..freedom of speech, expression and of the press; religious freedom; freedom of assembly and association.”
The topic of human and civil rights is a notably sensitive one in regimes like this one in Cuba, but concentrating on these instead of on the matter of power and property that underlies them is characteristic of those who desire only mild reforms.
Another explosive question: the inclusion of ALL Cubans in the reconstruction of Cuba. What a thorny topic! Mentioned that way with no further clarification, it smells of media political effect and of irresponsibility to me.
But I don’t want to judge without reading more deeply about what he is proposing.
At moments, Biscet reminds me of a stereotype on its way to extinction (more common among those of an advanced age) of an upright man, a nationalist, embittered by the political situation of the country and at the same time ingenuous and misinformed like the majority of Cubans (for reasons that we already know). But he separates from that stereotype through the “ingenuous” posture that he shows towards the United States’ leaders.
For example, when asked if he had received financing from the former President of the US he responds; “I haven’t received any financing on the part of this man … nevertheless, there is something that can’t be measured by any award. President Bush and the United States people have offered me their moral support and their altruistic love, something that has deeply touched my heart.”
Yes, Bush is a very ethical and altruistic man – maybe with his dogs.
This admiration for “the North” doesn’t seem to be a passing thing, because in his interview with Zoe Valdés, he answers the writer: “Barack Obama lives in a democratic republic where the elemental human rights are respected…”
In matters referring to the US, the man appears neither realistic nor of good judgment – very dangerous characteristics in a Cuban politician.
But later, it seems something other than innocence on the part of OEB when he pronounces himself in favor of the Blockade. In the quoted interview with Diario de Cuba, a daring reader asks him why he defends the Embargo when this also constitutes a violation of Human Rights. Biscet responds:
“The economic boycott is a method of non-violent civil disobedience. Looking at Henry Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Gene Sharp, this has a moral application when applied against tyrannies. Perhaps you live in a democratic country and have been able to observe that when the employees are in disagreement with their bosses they go on strike; surely you’ve observed strikes of doctors and nurses among other health personnel. Does this make you think that they don’t love their patients? Were you opposed to the international embargo that was held against racist South Africa? Have you considered that the hero Orlando Zapata Tamayo died reclaiming the human rights of the Cuban people, including yours?”
I don’t believe that seconding the blockade and referring constantly to God are going to earn many votes in Cuba for this doctor-turned-politician, although they will earn favor among anti-Castro radicals far removed from the human consequences of the Blockade. These latter are cruel people, as well as confused and obtuse, because the Blockade is the greatest way to support the Castro policies, as most anyone knows.
• Oscar Elías Biscet; Wikipedia.
• “Portrait of a mercenary: Oscar Elías Biscet”; Percy Francisco Alvarado Godoy; in the website Rebelión.
• “Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet Defender of what, and of which freedoms?” Mariana en cubalagrannacion.wordpress.com
• “Seven questions for Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet: the Castro’s rival”; writer Zoe Valdés in her blog.
• “Today we must support the public with information”; Readers’ interview; Diario de Cuba.