Obama Invites Cuban Dissidents to Washington

Fernando Ravsberg*

Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet accompanies his wife to the airport in Havana from where she flew directly to Miami . Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES — Cuban dissident Oscar Elias Biscet and his wife, Elsa Morejon, were invited by President Barack Obama to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Medal for Freedom, issued directly by the White House.

Dr. Biscet received this award in 2007, issued by then-President George W. Bush, something that, according to the dissident, “sent a strong message to the Castro dictatorship because I was in prison and that accelerated the process of my release.”

However, only Elsa could travel to Washington. Oscar, released in 2010, was one of the few political prisoners who wanted to stay in Cuba and now is subject to the “Provisional release” clause, a kind of probation that prevents you from leaving the country.

The invitation to Biscet and his wife adds to the meeting Obama recently held with Cuban dissidents Guillermo Fariñas and Berta Soler, during a fundraising dinner in Miami, where he voiced that things are changing in Cuba.

Biscet without permission to travel

“The event will be held today at the White House and all those who have received this medal awarded by the US government are expected to attend, but my husband did not receive permission to leave Cuba,” said Elsa Morejon shortly before leaving for Miami.

The wife of the opposition leader said she intended to “inform president Obama of the lack of freedom that exists in my country and the situation of political prisoners.” However when asked how many there are she said that “there are many and those who were freed in 2010 can’t travel.”

That year the government of Raul Castro set free all prisoners of conscience, most of them chose to go to Spain with their families, only a dozen decided to stay in Cuba, on probation, one of them is Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet.

The 12 former prisoners attempted to unify the opposition but their efforts were unsuccessful, the leaders of the different organizations never agreed and dissent has continued fragmented into small groups to the present.

In the doldrums

In the interview, Dr. Oscar E. Biscet said “that the contact (from Washington) with the dissidents is a message of solidarity being sent by the US president, as did President Bush, who awarded me the Medal of Freedom in 2007.”

Biscet, released in 2010, was one of the few who decided to stay in Cuba on probation to try to unify the dissent. Photo: Raquel Perez

However, the opponent does not share the view that there are changes in Cuba, recently expressed by Obama in Miami. “What we have is a process of improving its communism, they are changes within the dictatorship,” he said.

Dr. Biscet thanked “the president for this gesture to two simple citizens,” and asked that “this visit serve to make a deep analysis of the situation in Cuba and to generate direct support, firm and decisive to our people.”

However, all the support of Washington has been unable to prevent dissidents from being at a low point as to their social influence, something recognized by Jonathan Farrar, the former US Interests Section chief, in his cables to the State Department from Havana, revealed later by Wikileaks.

The ways of the Lord …

Nobody knows for sure why Obama initiates contacts with Cuban dissidents. It could be framed within the campaign to raise funds but the recognition of changes on the island makes it harder to understand the direction that policy towards Cuba might take.

In making the atmosphere even more strange, Washington sent its diplomatic mission in Havana an open message – that could be read by the Cuban government – with the names of US organizations and beneficiaries in Cuba of a multi-million-dollar project to support dissidents.

For his part, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that he supports eliminating the travel restrictions to the island for US citizens and reaffirmed that “we are encouraged by some changes that are occurring in Cuba”, although he qualified himself by talking about “the authoritarian situation faced by Cubans.”

The atmosphere causes such uncertainty that some dissidents seem concerned. Guillermo Fariñas and Berta Soler asked Barack Obama in Miami to not leave out the opposition if he should start negotiations with the Cuban government.
(*) Visit Fernando Ravsberg’s blog in Spanish.

16 thoughts on “Obama Invites Cuban Dissidents to Washington

  • Another nail in the coffin of your Chomsky underdog view. A new movie just out, available to all Comcast users, called”is the Man who is Tall Happy?” About Chomsky

    ….now, you were saying something about him being marginalized or a dissident, or something. Too funny

  • Dana, Griffin, Patterson, I AM CUBAN, LIVE IN CUBA. And I also enjoy critical thinking, questioning and argumentation. So let us say I am a Cuban that can also take some distance of her context.
    Patterson: Yes, the Italian professor anecdote is but an anecdote, but anecdotes are supposed to have some illustrative value. And please, do your homework regarding Chomsky, but not just the part where you go Voilá!, he was published by the New York Times (thus, freedom of speech point more than proven, Dan can’t say he has been marginalized by the media, etc), do also the part that would not allow you to say that his writings may not be of great intellectual value.
    I do believe that actual democracy in the United States and in many other first world country is paid lip service; yet, I totally agree with you in that, as compared to Cuba, civil rights are far more protected in the United States.
    Dana: I am anti-imperialist and I believe the US government and institutions are grossly hypocritical in so many respects. Yet, I keep wandering why well-intended, clever people like you insist in blindly admiring the Cuban leaders. I refuse to demonize them; I am aware of the positive historical and regional significance of some of the processes within the Revolution (I have lived it, I am branded by it, remember). But let us face it. It is ‘a textbook example’ of totalitarian repressive regime. And yes, Patterson is right, Noam Chomsky would be in prison or would have been completely ostracized and demonized if he was a Cuban dissident, even one from the left…not just marginalized by the media and academia. And who knows, maybe he would have needed a little financial or media help from another government either to just survive or to further his cause. Are you aware that at the beginning of the school year Cuban students are warned by some yelling militante that LA UNIVERSIDAD ES PARA LOS REVOLUCIONARIOS!, when university should be for all Cuban citizens regardless of ideology (education for all is a constitutional right). And please do not reply to this that US universities are more and more expensive every year and that this is another form of exclusion, because the key word is exactly that one: ANOTHER (one argument is not the counter-argument of the other), …and let me say, milder. Let me put it like this. To go to university in the US you cannot be without money; in Cuba you cannot be with a brain, a tongue and free will. You tell me which condition is more repressive and difficult to escape: poverty or the explicit penalization of free thinking and free speech.
    Let me finish with another ‘anecdote’ (see if Patterson likes this one). A Cuban university professor once said to me, as he spoke of an ostracized Cuban linguist who had defected in the sixties: “Who has seen a linguist involved in politics?!” …Wow! Well, there you have our beloved Noam Chomsky, who became famous worldwide in his twenties for his seminal book on syntactical structure, involved in politics all right. And believe me when I say that the views of this Cuban professor are sadly the views of the majority of Cubans, who see politics as a synonym of dissidence, thus, of potential repression.

  • No, I’m not satisfied. I support freedom, democracy and human rights in all countries, including Honduras, Haiti, Cuba, Syria, Iran, China, North Korea, Morocco …everywhere, and that includes in the USA, too.

    Could you please tell us why you support the suppression of freedom, democracy and human rights in Cuba?

  • Not really.

    I’m sorry to burst your persecution complex bubble but we’ve all heard of him. As a darling of Hollywood, he has most definitely received more than his share of celebrity. Perhaps he is marginalized by the main stream because the vast majority of American’s simply do not agree with him, hmmm?

    Regardless, you do realize that poor old marginalized Chomsky is quite loaded. Between his speeches, books, lectures, etc he’s made a few million at least (I’m sure you’ll look it…feel free) He’s playing you and all the other poor socialist fools for chumps as he racks in the doe. It would be funny if it we’rent so sad. …no, no, it is funny LOL

  • Chomsky has been published in the New York Times! He is hardly being ignored. The US media has no lack of lefties. The US pop culture is fickle and Chomsky happens to be one of those writers that feels neglected but it is simply because what he writes about is currently not “in”. If he focused on Iran and Syria more and Cuba less, MSNBC and Huffington Post would have him on the air. As far as your anecdotal experience with your Italian professor, who knows why his books were not permitted. Maybe a lack of intellectual value?

  • No, I’m talking about the dissident, not on the payroll of a foreign government, recognized as one of the world’s preeminent intellectuals, who is ignored by the media and academia at home, and who the vast majority of Americans never heard of. (BTW, don’t you CH’ers frequently say that the fact that Yoanni, the imperialist darling, is unknown at home, is proof of the lack of freedom of speech?) Anyway, no, Chomsky wasn’t just found dead and tortured along the roadside, unlike Manuel Murillo a month or so ago. But I have an Italian professor friend who was specifically prohibited by his US university from using his books in the classroom. Satisfied?

  • Moses, I can always count on you to miss the thrust of my argument. Yeah, it’s nice a mulatto can be elected president, especially for him. His real masters will reward him handsomely for doing their bidding. For the rest of us, “Hope and Change” is almost universally acknowledged as a bad joke. So I stand by my point. Our democracy is mostly illusory. It is a “Democracy” because we say it is , and we own the word. I don’t consider the Cuban leaders to be bastards, by any stretch. I admire them despite their many faults. And the reason that I constantly compare Cuba to the US is b/c you and the other Cuba critics constantly do, either explicitly or implicitly, as an example of how Cuba could or should be. What is interesting is how you consistently dodge those comparsions. Presumably b/c you have to.

  • Noam Chomsky? Do you mean that poor oppressed dissident locked up in a US prison where the CIA torture him daily for writing all those books criticizing America?

  • Point well taken.

  • Your outlook of the American political system is full of pithy criticisms. Some deserved and some not. Again, despite the imperfections, there is space for the son of a black African immigrant father and a white hippie mom to become President. In Cuba, and by the way, HT is about CUBA, no such space exists nor has existed for nearly 55 years. There is “room” to criticize American leadership free of censure and imprisonment. In Cuba, there is no space for criticism of the Castros. None. You seem to choose to defend those bastards in Cuba by attacking the US. Psychologists call that ‘transference’. I would respect your nonsensical beliefs more if you at least attempted to stay on topic.

  • Moses, my reading of US history is that you are permitted to discuss your disagreement with personalities, such as a particular president, or even question the system itself, so long as your opinions remain marginalized. Once they gain any sort of audience or effectiveness, they will be suppressed, one way or another. As Chomsky puts it, we have many “necessary illusions” here, the biggest being that we live in a one man, one vote democracy, rather than a plutocracy which can turn brutal when needed. People have that sense, thus the popular saying that if elections could change anything, they would be illegal, along with the growing feeling that the NSA is the only part of government which cares about what you have to say. So yes, I would say that really have little room to criticize the Cubans.

  • For those who dont know what a “repudiation act” is, here is a perfect

    YOUTUBE: This video shows part of the act of repudiation toward Sara Marta
    Fonseca Quevedo and her family, April 18 at her home in Rio Verde, Boyeros in


  • I would put it the other way around. Oprah, Bill, Hillary and Barak are fortunate to have the honour to meet such a brave woman as Elsa Morejon, who has actually put her own life on the line in the cause of freedom and democracy for her nation.

  • How cool is it that even though only Biscet’s wife was able to attend, that she was able to mix and mingle with such a powerful, influential and wealthy group of people? It certainly won’t hurt Dr. Biscet’s cause to have Oprah Winfrey’s personal telephone number. If she had a chance to shake Bill and Hillary’s hands, she has done something a lot of people only imagine doing. Attending this event must have been quite an honor.

  • And I suppose you define freedom as “repudiation rallies” and “express detentions”? No reasonable American believes that the US system is perfect, especially after what we have witnessed from Washington lately. That said, at least our form of “freedom” leaves space for differences of opinion. Even yours. The chasm between your world view and mine would not be permitted in Cuba.

  • “Freedom” is what the USA says it is.

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