The Path to Freedom for Cuba

A Conversation with Dr. Oscar Biscet

Dr. Oscar Biscet's freedom was taken away after protesting the Castro regime, so he knows how little the Cuban government values personal freedom.  The Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient discusses life in Cuba and the efforts to attain freedom for the country's citizens.

President Bush awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Dr. Oscar Biscet at the Bush Center on June 23, 2016. President Bush awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Dr. Oscar Biscet at the Bush Center on June 23, 2016. (Grant Miller / George W. Bush Presidential Center)

On June 23, 2016, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet finally received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in person from President George W. Bush. In 2007, President Bush awarded the prestigious honor to the Cuban dissident, but Dr. Biscet was in prison in Cuba for protesting the Castro government's repression of personal freedoms. Instead, his son accepted on his behalf in a White House ceremony.

After receiving the honor in person at the Bush Center, Dr. Biscet sat down for an interview about freedom of speech in Cuba with Christopher Walsh, manager of the Bush Institute’s Human Freedom Initiative, and William McKenzie, editor of The Catalyst. Since this interview, Dr. Biscet has returned to Cuba, where authorities harassed him after the completion of his first trip off the island.

Let’s start with freedom of speech. How would you describe that today in Cuba? Is the U.S. opening there having any impact on freedom of speech?

In Cuba, there is no freedom of speech. Nor are there any of the other freedoms. Freedom of religion doesn’t exist in spite of the fact that three popes have visited Cuba – John Paul II, Benedict, and Francis.

Freedom of religion is not a threat to the government or to the persistence of the government in power. It is defended in the Communist constitution. However, despite the visits of the three popes and being in the Constitution, freedom of religion doesn’t exist.

This is why civil and political freedoms will never be fulfilled in Communist  Cuba, even though President Obama went there and asked for these freedoms. Those freedoms are a threat to the government. They would have to accept freedoms like the freedom to create a political party or freedom of press. Those freedoms could put the government in checkmate.

They are not going to be achieved unless the people of Cuba demand them in the streets. And that is the objective of the Emilia Project.

In Cuba, there is no freedom of speech. Nor are there any of the other freedoms.

We will get to the Emilia Project in a moment. You did an interview with a Baptist pastor in Cuba. Are there house churches in Cuba?

You cannot find a house of worship. Nor can different religions have schools. They cannot provide education to the public. Churches cannot have access to TV shows or the press.  People can gather at homes for religious purposes. But the houses belong to the owners, not the churches. Nobody can say I will build a temple. They have to meet inside their own house.

Is access to the Internet changing freedom of speech in Cuba?

There is no change. We need to remember there is a totalitarian communist dictatorship. When you look at the faces of the Castro brothers, you are looking at Stalin, you are looking at Hitler.

The regime is based on the Constitution that Stalin created. Freedom of speech is not guaranteed by the Constitution. It allows for freedom of speech, but subjects it to many conditions. At some point they had to accept that people speak. There are a lot of people speaking. But, because of the terror of the state, there are things people would never say.

Is the Internet becoming affordable or is access changing?

The difference is now we have the Internet and before we didn’t. But for 11 million people, there are only 300 Internet centers. That makes a mockery of liberty and freedom of expression.

All websites are controlled. There are a lot of sites we cannot even see. And, of course, if you are talking about something on the Internet, the government can block you immediately. They have special monitors.

The Internet is available, if you have the money to pay for access. But it is so expensive. Most people cannot pay for it. Half-an-hour of use costs $1.20 in U.S. dollars. That may be what a normal person makes in two days. The average person in Cuba doesn’t make a dollar a day.

The Internet is available, if you have the money to pay for access. But it is so expensive. Most people cannot pay for it. Half-an-hour of use costs $1.20 in U.S. dollars. That may be what a normal person makes in two days.
Dr. Oscar Biscet wears his Presidential Medal of Freedom as William McKenzie interviews him at the Bush Center, June 23, 2016. (Andrew Kaufmann / George W. Bush Presidential Center) Dr. Oscar Biscet wears his Presidential Medal of Freedom as William McKenzie interviews him at the Bush Center, June 23, 2016. (Andrew Kaufmann / George W. Bush Presidential Center)

So, to the Emilia Project and its promotion of human rights and democratic freedoms for Cubans. How do you get Cubans to use their full names in signing the project’s petition that calls for personal and political liberties?

We are the end of the dictatorship because everyone wants a change in Cuba, even the communists. They want some change.

Communists in power or communists on the streets?

No, communists on the street. They want to gain new power.

All this talk is what makes us think that people are not that afraid anymore. People talk a lot about freedom and human rights, but they don’t do anything. That’s because the state has terrorized them for 57 years.

The purpose of the project is to give people hope and free them from fear. We are spreading the word and distributing a brochure in the streets, which has our address so people can communicate with us.

In spite of all the state terror, we were able to gather 3,000 signatures. The group is very small compared to the 11 million people of Cuba. But they are very big in spirit when you think about the terror the regime has planted in people, when you think about the government police and how strong they are, and when you think about the continuous surveillance of people. This group is great in its desire to achieve freedom.

That is why we want it to grow and spread all over the nation, so the group can demand freedom for Cuba. The government steals hope from people. We want this project to demonstrate that the end of injustice and this dictatorship are possible. We won’t leave the streets until the day we get freedom.

The [Cuban] government steals hope from people. We want this project to demonstrate that the end of injustice and this dictatorship are possible. We won’t leave the streets until the day we get freedom.

Who was Emilia?

Emilia Tuerbe Tolón was the first Cuban woman exiled from the island because of sedition.   She lived during the time of the Spanish colonial empire.

She sewed the first Cuban flag.  She was the only woman among the group of men on the path for freedom from Spain.

In 1950, when Cuba was a democracy, it marked the 100th anniversary of the first design of the Cuban flag. The Congress said then that Emilia was the anchor for Cuban woman because of her spirit and her fight for liberty, independence, and for her altruistic love for others. This woman thought about and helped poor people. She donated money so schools were built to educate the poor.

This is why we chose her name. She is the incarnation of freedom in Cuba. And she represents our wives, mothers, and daughters. There are a lot of women fighting for freedom in Cuba.

Christopher Walsh interviews Oscar Biscet, June 23, 2016. Christopher Walsh interviews Oscar Biscet, June 23, 2016. (Andrew Kaufmann / George W. Bush Presidential Center)

What other people have inspired you in your search for freedom?

Many people.

The essential ones are, of course, based on the non-violent struggle. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. Henry Thoreau. And Jesus Christ.

But in the field of human rights, we start from a document that is already more than 400 years old – the English Bill of Rights. This was taken up in the American independence of 1776 and made the American Revolution an example for the world.

The example was so great that Cuba made this part of the constitutions in 1901 and 1940. They had our Bill of Rights born out of the American Bill of Rights.

When Castro violated the constitution of 1940, he violated those basic rights for the Cuban people. He de facto suspended the constitution.

The 1940 Constitution condemns the government of Castro and declares it illegitimate. Castro governed for 17 years by decree. In 1976 he imposed his communist constitution. He institutionalized his dictatorship and the violation of human rights.

The Emilia Project declares that constitution and the powers of the state to be illegitimate and illegal. We recognize the constitution of 1940. It is the intellectual  element that declares we are on the right path.

We respect the constitutional history of Cuba so we can start a new government based on the constitution of 1940 and its Bill of Rights. Then, we can have a legitimate government.

We respect the constitutional history of Cuba so we can start a new government based on the constitution of 1940 and its Bill of Rights. Then, we can have a legitimate government.
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