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On July 20th, political prisoner of conscience Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet González will turn 49 years of age. On that day we wanted to publish a text remembering him.
Because Biscet and his wife Elsa Morejon also lived in the Lawton neighbrohood, one of the highest in the Havana municipality “10 de Octobre,” and the most populous of the Cuban capital. For a short cut, Oscar Elias often got off the bus at the stop on Plaza Roja, by our house, and by way of Carmen, our street, headed up to his home, several blocks farther up, always climbing a hill.
We have decided to bring forward our memories, however, knowing that a documentary has been made about him in which Ana Luisa López Baeza does not appear. Ana Luisa was an official reporter and later an independent journalist for Cuba Press, from the time it was founded by Raul Rivero, on September 23, 1995 .
A documentary about Biscet without the testimony of Ana Luisa is lame, incomplete. Because not only was she the first journalist to report about his dissent, but also because no one else has followed his career as a physician and human rights activist more than she has.
When Ana went into exile in Miami in 1999, others in Cuba Press continued to report everything to do with Oscar Elias: Raúl Rivero, Ricardo González Alfonso, Alida Viso Bello, Ariel Tapia and the two of us, among others. Last March 23, Ana Luisa remembered Biscet in this email:
“I can say that in that context I was most dazzled by Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet’s neat appearance, his modesty and his adherence to the Hippocratic Oath. This was apparent to me the first time I saw Biscet, when he went to my house to tell me what was happening in the Daughters of Galicia Hospital (where he worked) in relation to Rivanol-induced abortions.
“For me that is the first of many issues that have caused him so much suffering. His condemnation regarding the abortions was overwhelming. Added to his testimony was that of many women who, through that route, had had their pregnancies of 21 weeks or more terminated. Biscet made me listen to them in his presence and requested my opinion. I agreed with his: this was a horrendous crime.
“Almost all of these women, overcome by weeping, had not been informed about what they then lived through: many babies came out alive and thrashed around in the buckets or basins where they were deposited to be later silenced forever. Biscet left me a copy of the cassette and I reported about this through the means then available to us.
“I was aware at that time that he began his protests against that method of abortion displaying a sign that read ‘Abortion, murder of babies’ among his colleagues at the hospital where he worked.
“After that day, I kept in constant contact with Biscet and I kept track of all his activities in opposition up to the day I left Cuba in 1999. I was at his house several times, in Lawton, where more than once he was the victim of harassment. I remember most a stink bomb thrown at him, the kind that leaves an infernal stench.
“I also walked the streets of Lawton, his neighborhood, where I noticed the admiration and love that he inspired. Affection that was obvious, in spite of the forced need to be discrete, with gestures and words, in cases like his.”
What Ana Luisa said was corroborated by the following information published in Cubanet November 7, 2002 by Fara Armenteros.
“There is no doubt that this man has the capacity to understand human suffering, and that is why he takes on the defense of the human rights of the people,” Pedro, a man who traveled from another neighborhood to see Biscet, pointed out.
“My family told me that he had been liberated and I came to see his face. I am leaving more than satisfied, because I witnessed the entire press conference with the journalists” he added.
“Yesterday (November 6, 2002, a month before his arrest and permanent detention), Biscet held a press conference to make good on his promise to his fellow prisoners at the Cuba Si Prison, in Holguin province, where he was jailed for three years: to make known to the world the abuses and humiliations that prisoners in Cuban jails endure.
“When we asked Rachel Diaz, one of Biscet’s neighbors, her views on the doctor, she said: ‘Look at what he told the re-educator in prison,’ referring to one of the experiences recounted by the dissident, ‘and that’s what I think of Biscet, that he does not need re-education because he had great parents who raised him well.’
“Biscet said that in prison violence is used as an educational method, and explained the poor living conditions of prisoners: lack of medical care, poor food, overcrowding and lack of minimally adequate facilities for rest. He also noted that prisoners are not allowed to have radios. And although they are allowed to read the Bible, they cannot read it in groups.
“During the press conference, Biscet answered questions from independent journalists and foreign correspondents in Havana. ‘We are democratic and we need to accept diversity now,’ he said when asked his opinion about the Varela Project and the Assembly to Promote Civil Society.”
The documentary has another notable absence: that of Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, especially since the documentary has been dedicated to Orlando Zapata Tamayo. It seems that the filmmakers did not realize that Zapata Tamayo was among the opponents who joined the fast convened by the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in and led by Martha in February 2003, to demand the release of Dr. Biscet, arrested along Zapata Tamayo, Raúl Arencibia and Virgilio Marantes Guelma Fajardo, on December 6, when they were preparing to hold a meeting with human rights activists in the Lawton neighborhood.
Zapata, Arencibia, and Marantes were detained for a few weeks, afterward they were released to await trial. Zapata was rearrested on March 20, but Biscet has been detained since December 2002. In April 2003 Biscet was given a 25 year sentence as part of the “Group of 75.”
Among the memories is the morning independent reporter Ricardo Gonzalez Alfonso (sentenced to 20 years in prison on April 2003) reported by telephone, from our home, his coverage of the press conference that Biscet held near us, in his home.
On December 10th, 1998, the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Lawton Foundation, led by Biscet, organized a reading of the Declaration at Buttari Park, a park in the Lawton neighborhood. Representing Cuba Press at this event were Ariel Tapia, Ivan, and I. State Security staged a “show” at the scene that was later written about in the article “El show del Buttari.”
The last image we have of Biscet is from a photo Martha Beatriz showed us taken at a working lunch she, Rene Gomez Manzano and Feliz Bonne Carcasses held with Biscet at the Central Havana headquarters of the Canary Association of Cuba, where one can eat well and inexpensively. That was in 2002 after Biscet had served a 3-year sentence and right before he was rearrested in December 2002.
A personal tribute by way of the following two texts from the independent journalists who had the good fortune of having met one of the most important Cuban dissidents of all times.
Una revolución pacífica comienza. [A peaceful revolution begins.]
La opción de Biscet. [Biscet’s Option.]
We would have also liked to reproduce “Cuba Yes, Biscet Also” by Raul Rivero and published by the Nuevo Herald on April 14th, 2000, but we were not able to locate it on the internet. [Translator’s note: This article has been located and will be translated and linked to this blog post.]
Ivan Garcia and Tania Quintero
Translated by HEFA and other(s).