On March 11, 2011
Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet was released from a maximum-security prison outside
Havana. The release of Dr. Biscet, who had spent all but 36 days of the past 11
years in a Cuban prison cell, was negotiated with the help of the Catholic
Church and the government of Spain. Dr. Biscet has been called the number-one
enemy of the Castro brothers for his non-violent opposition to the Cuban
government’s human rights violations and its systematic use of forced abortion.
In 2007, Dr. Biscet received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the United
States, and he is a finalist for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. Because the Cuban
government allows its citizens only very limited use of the Internet and other
technologies, this interview with CWR
was conducted over several weeks and has been translated from Spanish into
[Editor's Note: This interview originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of Catholic World Report.]
Six months have now passed since you were released from
prison. Can you tell us what this time has been like for you and your family,
both spiritually and in terms of everyday life?
Oscar Biscet: You mention two important terms in this
questionone is freedom and the other one is the family. Both of them are the
product of God’s boundless love for human beings. In the Book of Genesis it
says: “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness’… male
and female he created them.” This poetic expression encompasses a profound
philosophy and a scientific approach to understanding the world, so necessary
nowadays for the behavior of the human race. God is the father of the human
family and a paradigm of absolute freedom in the universe. For that reason I
positively value having been released in order to be able to live daily life,
good [and] bad, with my wife and with the rest of my familyand above all to be
able to [work for] fundamental rights for my family and for my people.
Of the 75 opposition leaders, journalists, and
librarians arrested during Cuba’s 2003 Black Spring, you were one of the last
prisoners of conscience to be released. Can you describe the process of your
release? During this process, you consistently refused release in exchange for
exile. Was that a difficult decision?
Biscet: The process for my release was long,
traumatic, and distressing for many.… The institutions involved were not able
to carry out a balanced negotiation to benefit the political prisoners while
they were waiting to be released. I had made the decision not to leave my
country 14 years ago, when in 1998, I was expelled from the hospital where I
was working for the mere fact that I peacefully defended the life of the unborn
children. They also retaliated against my family. Friends from other nations
offered me political asylum but I rejected their proposals. This was very hard
because at that time my relatives were being tortured by the Castro regime.
Can you describe your emotions after finally
being released in March?
Biscet: It was very pleasant. I was happy and calm
because I was returning to my home. At the same time, I was worried, as I had
my hopes pinned on [securing] human rights and the freedom of the Cuban people.
How are inmates, both political
prisoners and general prisoners, treated inside Cuban prisons? Do you have any
stories to share from your time as a prisoner of conscience?
Biscet: The penitentiary system in Cuba is a clear reflection of the socialist
society. They violate all the international agreements on human rights,
including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Standard Minimum
Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. In Cuban prisons [the government]
tortures [inmates] and provides cruel and inhuman treatment to the prisoners.
There are many horrible and shameful stories regarding the attitudes of the
military staff within the prisons. Usually in prisons we find drug trafficking.
One of the ways to obtain [drugs] is to [procure] them from the treatment of
sick inmates. On one occasion a prisoner claimed [he needed drugs] for his
medical treatment and they denied it. His way to protest was to inflict damage
to himself. He cut a small artery of his hand and blood gushed out. The
authorities were aware of this case but they did not pay any attention. Given
this difficult situation I protested vigorously and only then was he taken to
How did you spend your time in
prison? How were you able to nourish your spiritual life? How did you remain
Biscet: Before being imprisoned I was a man with a deep love for the God of the
Bible. The Jewish-Christian philosophy was part of my daily life and this
enabled me to resist with dignity the hard times in prison. I was able to know
in practice the merciful love of God through the forgiveness of sins, upholding
the humble in spirit over the arrogant, and searching for the best of the human
being. Only my faith and hope in that loving God who wants the good for all his
sons enabled me to grow in spirit and strengthened me for the ups and downs of
life. That is why I was able to succeed and I thank my Lord again and again.
Hope is what fills people with optimism and this is what I transmitted to all
the inmates. Those who were imprisoned for having committed crimes I encouraged
to change their way of life and to be good citizens, which will eventually help
to change the nation for good. With reference to the prisoners of conscience,
the hope that we would soon be released and that then we would be followed by
our people was the conviction that kept [us] happy in that dark world. This
state of happiness was reflected in my face, and this was visible and
contagious. This profound feeling prevented me from abandoning my homeland and
thus destroying the hopes of my people.
After having spent the better
part of the last 11 years in prison, do you believe the Cuban government has
made any substantial changes in the way it treats its citizens?
Biscet: Currently in Cuba we have the same dictatorship we’ve had during the last
52 years, Castro’s Stalinist dictatorship. What we’ve seen in the country’s
government is the succession of one ruler to another. Recently, Fidel Castro
was [succeeded] by his brother, Raul. Since then, state terrorism has also
increased. They have even beaten women, and they have murdered people, like
Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Juan W. Soto, who were [working] in a peaceful manner
for human rights. The communist regime is the same as in 1959. It’s repressive,
unproductive, and corrupt. Its governor, Raul Castro, has the same
characteristics as five decades ago. He’s perverse, cruel, and a murderer.
How do you interpret Raul
Castro’s recent decisions to allow limited private jobs and private land?
Biscet: These decisions are due to a profound economic crisis through which his
system is going. Don’t take this as a sign of economic freedom, because this
process is reversible; besides, there are other cruel dictatorships that have
also had private firms, and this has not led to the respect of civil or
Churches in Cuba are restricted
in many ways. Have you witnessed any new opportunities for churches to reach
the people with the word of Christ? What is the state of the Cuban people’s
Biscet: Cuba does not have a real religious freedom. You can’t build temples
freely. You cannot broadcast the biblical message autonomously. Religious
schools are forbidden. Cuban printers have never printed the Bible, and you
cannot preach in parks and open spaces. Priests who [object to] their social
status are expelled from their institutions due to the pressure exercised by
the government. Cuban people desire significant changes in their lives, not
just from the economic point of view, but also from a perspective [of] human
dignity. That is to say, they desire to have civil and political rights. Until
now state terrorism has held back their dreams, but this will not last for a
long time. Many of us have [prayed] for the favor of the God of the Bible to
accomplish this liberating venture, and we have faith that we will be able to
make these dreams come true.
What would you suggest the international
communitythe US government, the EUdo to help bring about democratic change in Cuba? Also, what can the
leadership of the Catholic Church (both in Cuba and at the Vatican) do to
support Christians and those working non-violently for freedom in Cuba?
Biscet: Freedom is the most precious asset that human beings have because it…makes
them independent both individually and socially. For this reason, free
countries should clearly support people, groups of people, or institutions that
[work] for human and fundamental rights. Solidarity with human beings who
suffer a dictatorship is ethical and fair, and their support is indispensable.
An action like the one carried out for racist South Africa is ideal to help the
I believe that if the Catholic Church honors the legacy of Pope John Paul
II…and works together with the long-suffering Cuban people and puts aside the
favoritism toward the government of Havana, it would greatly contribute to the
freedom of its people. I would very much like [to see] the leaders of the
Catholic Church, both in Cuba and the Vatican, encourage the government of
[Cuba] to sign and put into practice the international agreement on civil,
political, and human rights. They should also urge them to hold free and democratic
What can Christians around the
world do to support your cause?
Biscet: The first action of any Christian is to show their solidarity through
prayers to the Lord God in favor of all those who suffer. Next, they should
inform [others], through any means of communication, [about] the lack of
freedom and the violation of basic human rights [in Cuba].
What are your plans for the
future? Do you have any initiatives forthcoming?
[I will continue to find] feasible ways for my people to live in
freedom, peace, and prosperity. This can be attained through the civil
nonviolent struggle. That is to say, massive, nonviolent political action that
disintegrates the dictatorship and establishes democracy and freedom guaranteed
by the democratic rule of law.