Monday, June 13, 2016

Meeting Cuban human rights defender Dr. Biscet nineteen years later

"There is an intellectual awakening taking place in Cuba that goes beyond economic necessities and many interpret Obama’s warm embrace with the tyrant as a sign that the U.S. has abandoned a people in search of liberty. […] Liberty is not a political issue, it is a moral issue…” - Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet, Diario de las Americas, May 28, 2016

With Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet and filmmaker Jordan Allot at Victims of Communism dinner
From Pro-Life activist to human rights defender
First heard of Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet, a Cuban medical doctor, purged from his post by the Castro regime for founding a human rights group, the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights, and for his investigation into the use of the drug Rivanol to induce abortions in pregnant women with or without their consent in 1997.

In 1997 the Lawton Foundation carried out a 10 month clandestine research study at the Obstetrics Pediatric Municipal Hospital "10 de octubre, Hijas de Galicia" in Havana, Cuba and obtained unofficial statistical data concerning abortions, particularly using the Rivanol technique. This study was made public in April of 1998, and officially delivered to the Cuban government on June 9, 1998. It denounced the Cuban national health care system and asked that all abortion procedures be discontinued.

At the time Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet, a 37 year old Internal Medicine Specialist, and Rolando Muñoz Yyobre, a 29 year old computer programming technician, both members of the Lawton's Foundation Executive Board, co-authored the study: " Rivanol: a Method to Destroy Life". The study was dedicated to the 23 children assassinated on July 13, 1994 as they were fleeing Cuba on the "13 de Marzo" tugboat to seek political asylum in the United States. 37 of the 72 men, women and children, drowned. Survivors testified how Cuban government tug boats rammed the "13 de Marzo" and pummeled the refugees with water from high pressure hoses; circling the tugboat until it sank approximately 7 miles from Havana.

On July 9, 1998, both human rights activists, Dr. Biscet and Yyobre, were detained in a Havana Police Station (Diez y Aldabo) for expressing their desire to carry out a peaceful demonstration before the Ministry of Justice on the fourth anniversary of the sinking of the "13 de Marzo" tug boat. The Lawton Foundation claims that the Cuban authorities must fully investigate the event so that justice prevails. All their personal papers related to the Rivanol study, and documents related to their human rights activities in Cuba were confiscated on the day of the arrest.

Not only was the doctor fired from his job but evicted from his home. This led to Oscar Elías evolving from a pro-life activist to a human rights defender and practitioner of non-violence in more expansive terms without abandoning his dedication to the life issue. This is reflected in the mission statement and description of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights.
  •   Founded in 1997 in Havana, Cuba as a non-governmental humanitarian and peaceful organization; sustained upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It promotes the study, defense and denunciation of human rights violations inside Cuba and wherever the rights and liberties of human beings are disregarded.
  • Their main objective is to establish in Cuba a state based on the rule of law.
  • The groundwork for their defense of all human rights is based upon the first human right : The right to life, without which all other liberties would be invalidated.
  • They are specially against abortion, the death penalty (in Cuba by firing squad) and euthanasia.
  • Made up of adult Cuban citizens of all ages, social groups, professionals as well as non-professionals; with a membership of approximately 28.
  • Their members are fully and actively committed to carry out their ideals inside Cuba without any guarantees to their lives. They are censured, harassed, mistreated and incarcerated by the Cuban authorities for defending their principles.
Forty Day Fast
Dr. Biscet's experiments in nonviolence would lead to many short term detentions and members of the Free Cuba Foundation carried out actions in solidarity with his nonviolent actions, and gathered 37 signatures of Florida International University students for the "Petition in Support of the Fasters at Tamarindo 34," Cuban human rights defenders at a home in Tamarindo 34 fasted for 40 days from June 7, 1999 through July 18, 1999 reading psalms and engaging in a political dialogue over those days. The petition read as follows:
We the students at FIU in signing this document declare our support for the human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists and their 40 day fast which is taking place throughout Cuba, and was started in a small apartment in Tamarindo 34 in Havana. The goals of the fast: a general amnesty for all political prisoners, and that human rights be respected in Cuba are ones that we share.  We call on the Cuban government to honor your request and to issue an unconditional amnesty for all political prisoners, and to begin a series of legal transformations that will provide the necessary framework, within the law, to secure absolute respect for all universally recognized human rights. 
As a nonviolent activist Oscar Elías began to communicate with international nonviolent icons. Dr. Biscet sent a letter to His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1999 explaining the shared struggle of the Tibetan and Cuban peoples and celebrating nonviolence as the mean of achieving a real peace.
"Your story and that of your people are one and the same with outs. Tibetans and Cubans, geographically distant, yet, close as they bear a suffering imposed by a common adversary: communism, usurper of our homelands. A large number of Cubans support the independence and freedom of Tibet. In your struggle, you may count on the support of the members of The Lawton Foundation who recognize your authority as Tibet's head of State. We call on the nations of the world to officially recognize this exemplar for the good of humanity in its struggle to obtain universal respect for the inalienable rights of man. The great work of the prince Gautama Buddha is today a reality. His heart reflects the true light that leads to the path of uprightness and a life full of God, as he leads his people to a level of superior peace through the use of nonviolent means of resistance."
Escalating Regime Violence and Imprisonment
In August of 1999 Dr. Biscet was beaten and burned with a cigarette when police detained him over the weekend at a provincial station in Matanzas while trying to organize a meeting. In November of 1999 he was imprisoned for three years after holding a press conference where he was accused of displaying the Cuban flag upside down. In February 2002 when I was asked about the prospect of President Carter's official visit to Cuba my response was that he should visit Dr. Biscet and ask why the International Red Cross was not able to visit prisoners there.   

Oscar was freed for 36 days on October 31, 2002 after serving a three year sentence and then arbitrarily imprisoned again on December 6, 2002, only to be subjected during the 2003 Black Spring crackdown, to a show trial and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He became part of a group of internationally recognized 75 prisoners of conscience serving long and unjust prison sentences. On April 9, 2003 addressing the UN Human Rights Commission I spoke about the show trial stating that "on 7 April 2003, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet was tried without due process and today was facing up to 25 years in prison for defending human rights in Cuba."  

According to the NGO, Freedom Now, Dr. Biscet was subjected "to inhumane treatment, including confining him to a punishment cell barely larger than his own body for seven months and refusing to feed him for three weeks. During his imprisonment, Dr. Biscet lost 40 pounds and nearly all of his teeth. He suffers from hypertension, gastric ulcers, chronic gastritis, and hypercholesterolemia."

In 2007 Biscet received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the United States recognizing his nonviolent struggle for a free Cuba.

Filmmaker Jordan Allot entered Cuba to film a biography of the life of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, a leader of Cuba's civic non-violent movement and at the time an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience serving a 25-year prison sentence at the Combinado de Este prison in Cuba. Jordan's 2010 film, Oscar's Cuba, takes you on a journey of Cuba as seen through the eyes of Oscar Elias Biscet from the day he was born until the present.

Freedom and continued activism
Many campaigned for his release between 1999 and 2011, and Oscar Elías was finally released on March 11, 2011 after a total of more than 12 years in prison The Czech dissident and president, Vaclav Havel, sent Dr. Biscet a letter of solidarity dated March 12, 2011. 

A short time later I was present to witness rock n roll front man Bono sing his praises at a U2 concert in Miami on June 29, 2011.  Afterwards Dr. Biscet wrote an open letter to the Irish rocker.

Out of prison in 2011 he would denounce the extrajudicial killings of activists Laura Pollán and Juan Wilfredo Soto García.  On February 16, 2012  Cuban human rights defender Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet testified by phone from Havana, Cuba to a Subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs chaired by Congressman Chris Smith of the fourth district of New Jersey. In March of 2012 in an open letter to Pope Benedict Dr. Biscet described what goes on in the Caribbean nation: 
"Cuban jails are living hells in which flagrant violations of human dignity occur daily. I've spent over 12 years incarcerated, most recently for "crimes against state security"—that is, asking the Cuban state to respect the fundamental human rights of every Cuban citizen."
 Oscar Elias continues to suffer police harassment but has continued in his activism and in 2013 launched Project Emilia, a petition drive calling for radical change in Cuba and an end to the Castro dictatorship calling for nonviolent resistance as the method of struggle. 

At Victims of Communism wreath laying ceremony in DC
Meeting Dr. Biscet
Nineteen years after first hearing his name, in the space of a week, would thrice meet Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet and his wife, and an activist in her own right, Elsa Morejon first at a dinner in Miami,  the next morning by pure chance on the same flight to Washington DC, and finally at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation where I had the honor of translating for him during the Roll Call of Nations wreath laying ceremony. This is Dr. Biscet's first visit outside of Cuba and the Castro regime says that it will be his only permitted travel because he is still serving out his 25-year prison sentence on conditional release.


  1. I am very enthuse to know that Dr. Biscet was released, although temporary. Thank John Suarez for all your years of dedication and struggle for the world to know these human rights martyrs, bringing it to light and speaking the truth. God bless you.

    1. Thank you Harold for your activism and dedication as well.

  2. Gracias John, no me alcanzará la vida para agradecerle su dedicación a la causa de la libertad del pueblo cubano, soy testigo de sus desvelos, sacrificios e incansables esfuerzos por que se escuchen nuestras voces de reclamos de derechos y libertades para el pueblo cubano,me siento, bendecida y orgullosa de tenerte como un gran amigo.