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Oscar Biscet Talks with the Bush Institute about Cuba’s Future
On June 23, 2016, President George W. Bush finally had the opportunity to present the Presidential Medal of Freedom in person to Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet. 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 last week at the Bush Center, Dr. Biscet sat down for an interview about the meaning of the award and the situation in his country.
What does the Presidential Medal of Freedom mean to you?
It is a gesture of freedom, a gesture of altruistic love, and a condemnation of the suffering the people of Cuba are enduring. President Bush honored us with this medal but the main purpose of this medal and the main meaning of this medal are for people to look to see the fight we are doing in Cuba for freedom.
The whole world knows that there is a totalitarian dictatorship in Cuba that violates the most elementary human rights. This medal will make people look at these issues. That is its symbolism.
To what extent are Cubans aware of this medal?
Many years have gone by since it was awarded, so maybe because of the terror, people don’t remember anymore. But everyone who is concerned about liberty in Cuba knows about this medal.
Even in Cuba, where there is total control of information, there is a Wikipedia system. It's not legal, but most young people have that installed in their phones. Through that channel, they know about these facts.
Let's talk about the recent openings to Cuba. U.S. tourists and businesses are eager to visit Cuba. What effect is this having? Is it opening up the country?
In Cuba, there is an opening only between the two governments.
In Cuba, there is an opening only between the two governments. A democratic and free government that says it is defending liberties nevertheless is embracing dictators in Cuba, people whose hands are stained with blood. The fact that someone embraces a person with these characteristics leaves a lot to be desired for those who love freedom and for the people of Cuba.
How do you open up relations if you are not dealing government to government?
You cannot negotiate freedom with a tyrannical government. The Cuban regime is like the apartheid system in South Africa. In South Africa, it was a racial problem. In Cuba, it is because they hate ideas and the way people think.
They exercise more control over people than the apartheid system and the American Congress approved sanctions for South Africa. From the perspective of repression and control, the Castros of Cuba represent an apartheid system.
An example is I own my house. If I want someone to live in my house for more than three days, I need to ask the government for permission. This is much worse than apartheid.
Is that example about your house true for all people?
For everybody. That is a law in Cuba. You also need to carry your ID at all times.
And that hasn’t changed since the opening?
If you don’t have your ID with you, they fine you. The fine is very high and then you go to prison on top of that, like the apartheid system in South Africa.
Why did your government let you travel?
The Cuban regime is like the apartheid system in South Africa. In South Africa, it was a racial problem. In Cuba, it is because they hate ideas and the way people think.
I think that after so many years of controlling me and trying to destroy my personality, and trying to diminish all the publicity about me, they thought that maybe it was not that important that I left. So, they let me leave.
I imagine that they looked at what they could lose and what they could win, so they thought that they could win more by letting us out. And they could show a new face to the world.
They didn’t think that this visit could have such repercussions. I was received by the Prime Minister of Hungary, the first minister who defended publicly the freedom of the people of Cuba. He highlighted the Emilia Project that we have started.
In Spain, I was welcomed by the people with a lot of publicity. In Miami, I was received by a lot of excited of people with love and publicity, I was very welcomed. And in Washington I met with members of Congress, including Cuban-American Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, and all the Cuban-American congressmen.
Why did you decide to accept the opportunity to go?
Two simple reasons:
The government in Cuba is trying to annihilate the Emilia Project, so I had to let people know about this project, that there is a group of people who t don’t want any dialogue with this type of government. We want to disintegrate this government and then attain our freedom.
The second reason for my trip is a family reason. I wanted to see my children, my grandchildren. See how they are, where they go to school, and be able to hug them and give them a lot of love and advice.
Why do you plan to return to Cuba? And why do you plan to remain in Cuba?
All my work has been because of a problem of conscience. I didn’t have any personal problems in Cuba.
If I had wanted to have my personal freedom, I could have emigrated at some point. But I would have had to leave my people in slavery. I would have left a lot of innocent people behind who don’t have any voice.
So I got the courage to raise my voice. This voice is for those innocent people who don’t have any voice. In the future, they will be able to raise their voices too. We know we are going to be free.
I got the courage to raise my voice. This voice is for those innocent people who don’t have any voice. In the future, they will be able to raise their voices too. We know we are going to get to be free.
Do you see hope for the future? If so, why do you see hope?
Because we are at the end of this dictatorship. According to Natan Sharansky, the end of a dictatorship starts when the repression increases. "Double thinkers" increase their number too. This is exactly what is going on in Cuba. (Editor’s Note: Natan Sharansky defines “double thinkers” as those who no longer believe in a regime but are too scared to say so.)
On top of this, there is a horrible economic crisis. Venezuela cannot send any funds for this government. And the people, they are waking up. They are conscious about the change.
This is why we think freedom is very close. And we want to push this Emilia Project so Cubans can be full of hope and courage. They can then decide to be with us in this fight for democracy and freedom.
William McKenzie is editorial director for the George W. Bush Institute, where he also serves as editor of The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute.
Active in education issues, he participates in the Bush Institute’s school accountability project. And he teaches as an adjunct journalism lecturer at SMU, where he teaches a course on media and politics.
Before joining the Bush Institute, the Fort Worth native served 22 years as an editorial columnist for the Dallas Morning News and led the newspaper’s Texas Faith blog. The University of Texas graduate’s columns appeared nationwide and he has won a Pulitzer Prize and commentary awards from the Education Writers Association, the American Academy of Religion, and the Texas Headliners Foundation, among other organizations. He still contributes columns and essays for the Morning News.
Before joining the News in 1991, he earned a master’s degree in political science from the University of Texas at Arlington and spent a dozen years in Washington, D.C. During that time, he edited the Ripon Forum.
McKenzie has served as a Pulitzer Prize juror, on the board of a homeless organization, and on governing committees of a Dallas public school. He also is an elder of the First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, where he lives with his wife and their twin children.Full Bio
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