Dr. Oscar Biscet: A Profile in Courage From Cuba

Sunday, June 12, 2016
From The Washington Examiner:

Dr. Oscar Biscet: A profile in courage from Cuba

When Oscar Elias Biscet was a young physician in Havana, he noticed something peculiar. Cuba's healthcare system was held up as one of the finest in the world, but the communist country also had the highest abortion rate in the Americas. What's more, babies were regularly being aborted just moments before birth and even after birth.

When Biscet exposed this grisly practice, he was stripped of his medical license (his wife, Elsa Morejon, lost her nursing job). A year later, he displayed the Cuban flag upside down and received a three-year prison sentence for public disorder and dishonoring national symbols. A few days after his release, Biscet was re-arrested, this time for meeting with other dissidents, convicted of treason and given a 25-year term, including significant time in solitary confinement.

Biscet served more than eight years of that sentence, and more than 11 years total in Cuba's fetid prisons. During that time, he became a symbol of Cubans' fight for freedom and democracy.

Biscet recently left his home country for the first time. On a visit to Washington, D.C., this week, he met with members of the Washington Examiner's editorial board. In a wide-ranging interview, Biscet called President Obama's outreach to the Cuban government, which includes re-opening embassies in both nations and loosening of travel and trade restrictions to Cuba, a "strategic error."

Cuban President Raul Castro has enacted a few reforms: Citizens are allowed to open certain small businesses and have better access to the Internet and cell phones. But Biscet says those reforms are cosmetic and that "the people are far removed from the benefits [of the reforms]." He also stressed that, as in China, another communist dictatorship, economic reforms don't necessarily lead to political reforms.

They certainly haven't in Cuba. The rights of free speech, assembly and a free press still ellude the Cuban people. Political repression is still rampant. Biscet was beaten, arrested and detained just last month. By some counts the number of political prisoners in Cuba is down to a couple dozen. But, Biscet says, "this number misrepresents the real number, because the government doesn't consider most prisoners of conscience to be political prisoners — they detain them as if they were common criminals."

Biscet also believes that Obama violated the Helms-Burton Act by changing the American policy toward Cuba. That law requires that a democratically elected government be instituted in Cuba before relations are renewed.

So what will it take for Cuba to change? "We don't think that because one person dies, there will be change," Biscet says. "[The Castros] created a system that whoever takes over will have enormous power."

Is there anything Obama or whoever succeeds him can do to help bring about change? First, he or she must demand religious freedom for the Cuban people, Biscet says. Cuba is no longer an officially atheist state that executes priests and burns down churches. The Catholic Church is no longer outlawed. Instead, the regime limits its citizens' religious activities to church attendance but little more.

Biscet knows that the Cuban government would like to be rid of him and thus, by allowing him to travel abroad, have given him a "puente de plata," an old proverb that means that when an enemy leaves, you should build him a bridge of silver so that he never comes back.

But Biscet is already anxious to go back. When he was last freed from prison, in 2011, his release was delayed because he refused to be exiled from the country he loves and feels called to liberate. And so he will return soon. "I have a moral and ethical commitment to return. I can't leave my people enslaved."