Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Castro's Black Prisoner

the Village Voice

Liberty Beat

Castro's Black Prisoner
A follower of Martin Luther King and Gandhi in Fidel's custody for 22 more years

by Nat Hentoff
June 9th, 2005 5:41 PM

Dr. Biscet (left): His crime is his courage.
photo: Coalition of Cuban-American Women

Congressman Charles Rangel�a frequent, forthright defender of civil liberties on national television�has long been a paladin of black political and human rights in this country. He also worked to help remove South Africa's apartheid government, and he has been arrested at the Sudanese embassy in Washington for protesting the continuing genocide in Darfur.
Because of his record, I was surprised when�as nonviolent Cubans had the courage to gather in Havana on May 20 for the first public mass meeting for their freedom during Castro's 46-year dictatorship�Rangel was among the only 22 members of the House of Representatives who voted against a resolution (392 in favor) supporting this "historic meeting."

Then, as noted in last week's column, Rangel attacked American politicians who "refuse to give the [Castro] government the respect that it deserves." And he dismissed the Cubans defying the dictator�who, in 2003, locked up for long sentences more than 70 dissenters.

Said Rangel: "I don't think it helps to be supporting insurgents overthrowing the [Castro] government."

In view of this strange position for a passionate opponent of repressive governments, I asked several people who know Rangel if they could explain it. They were as surprised as I was, and couldn't.

But since Rangel also recommended reaching out to Fidel rather than "isolating" the people of Cuba, I have a suggestion as to how he himself can do just that. Surely Fidel would welcome this supportive, highly visible, anti-Bush-administration congressman if Charles Rangel were to go to Cuba to ask about one of the dissidents whom Amnesty International designates "a prisoner of conscience"�and who was named president of honor at the May 20 meeting of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Havana.

In its March 18, 2005 report on these prisoners, Amnesty cites "Oscar El�as Biscet Gonz�lez, 43. Sentence: 25 years . . . Prison: Combinado del Este Prison, Havana."

This is not the first time Dr. Biscet, a black physician, has been put away. When he was on the outside, as head of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights, Biscet was locked up for three years for "disrespecting patriotic symbols." At a news conference, this follower of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and the Dalai Lama committed the disgraceful crime of hanging a Cuban flag upside down. What sentence would Charles Rangel have given him?

Then in 2002, as Mary Anastasia O'Grady�a valuable chronicler of human rights abuses in Latin America�reported in the May 6, 2005, Wall Street Journal:

"Dr. Biscet's plan to create small groups meeting in private homes to promote human rights landed him in jail again and he received a 25-year sentence."

She noted that the website free-biscet.org reported that since Biscet was put away, "he has staged protests against Cuba's violation of human rights at the prison with acts of civil disobedience, such as fasting and holding prayer services."

During one of those acts of civil disobedience�his wife, Elsa Morej�n Hern�ndez, says�Dr. Biscet was among the prisoners who shouted, "Down with the Castro-Communist dictatorship." Like civil rights fighters in the United States and South Africa, Dr. Biscet has refused to cower in his cell, and at times that's been one of Castro's "punishment cells."

In these windowless three-foot-wide underground rectangular cells, the toilet is a hole in the floor; there is no access to light and no water, except that provided by the guard at his considerably less than compassionate discretion. As a political prisoner, moreover, Dr. Biscet often is forced to share his cell with nonpolitical inmates, some of whom have committed violent crimes.

Last year, according to an article on free-biscet.org, he was deprived of food rations for periods of time. "The family found Dr. Biscet's high blood pressure under control [he also has severe digestive disorders] but found him very thin, having lost around 60 pounds of body weight since his incarceration in Prison Kilo 8. [He has since been transferred to the Havana cell named above by Amnesy International.] His teeth are totally deteriorated due to the dire prison conditions he has suffered . . . and lack of medical attention which he refuses to accept because he distrusts the intentions of the military medical personnel at the prison."

Himself a doctor, Biscet is aware that the priority of military doctors at a prison is not the state of the patients but the commands they receive from their political superiors.

For example, consider the medical care of the American detainees, as reported in "The Abu Ghraib Scandal You Don't Know" by Adam Zagorin in Time magazine (February 14, 2005): "[T]he medical system at the prison became an instrument of abuse, by design and by neglect."

Dr. Biscet finds ways to send messages from his cell, among them "My conscience and my spirit are well." As Mary Anastasia O'Grady writes, "Perhaps his worst transgression is his courage, which makes him a dangerous inspiration to the many Cubans that are now organizing in small groups [throughout the country]."

Charles Rangel could be an inspiration to prisoners of conscience not only in Cuba but in other nations�and to the "ghost prisoners" whose names we do not know, and who are held in secret locations around the world by the CIA�if he went to Havana and spoke to Fidel Castro about Dr. Oscar El�as Biscet.

Fidel is an imposing presence, but so is Charles Rangel. In reaching out to Castro, the congressman could ask to see Dr. Biscet. In that small cell, Charles Rangel could provide this unbreakable black prisoner with reminiscences of another man of conscience and courage�Dr. Martin Luther King.

But now, New York City councilman Charles Barron�who once feted Zimbabwe's brutal dictator, Robert Mugabe, at City Hall�says of Castro (The New York Sun, May 26): "He is a true champion of human rights wordwide." What world is Barron living in?
go to next article in news ->

1 comment:

Kingmont said...

NB - Following E-mail received from my good friend Nelly Bailey, although we disagree on the Cuba issue, I respect her right to express her concerns and opinions.

I also have the greatest respect and admiration for US Rep Charles B. Rangel, although I vehemently disgree with his views on Cuba as a Cuban but as an American I find myself almost always on his side and he on my side of os many issues that affect our community that we have developed split personalites and know when we stand together for the benfit of our community and when apart in regards to Cuba.

As a Cuba-born American and former Exile I despise the broadbrush used by the "Progressives" to describe my Cuban-American Exile community but will never suggest that they should cease and desists of their God given right to express themselves.

I hope they feel the same about me.


Subject: Re: [CB9M Chair's Blog] Castro's Black Prisoner
Date: 6/16/2005 2:48:13 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time
From: Harlemtenants
To: Reysmontj
CC: Harlemtenants

Jordi (George) Reyes-Montblanc, Chair


Since you are chair of Community Board 9 and in that position sent this e-mail article that attacks Cuba and Harlem�s Representative Charles Rangel for his support of Cuba, I feel compel to reply!

Notoriously anti-Cuba Hentoff is constantly spewing bile toward the Cuban government and the Cuban people who have a right to determine the leadership of their country, not Hentoff or Poppy Bush who won questionably election and reelection in this country, the first time around with the help of the racist anti-Castro opposition groups in Miami.

Remembering when they rioted in the street of Miami, storm the election office overthrowing chairs and physically intimidating anyone who got in their way! But no one was arrested. (One can imagine an altogether different scenario if the BLACK residents of Liberty City has done the same). The extent of their utter right wing craziness was in full view for the American public during the "Elian" siege. Residents of "Little Havana" in Miami who advocate even a moderate approach to lifting the over 40 years embargo against Cuba have been beaten, bombed, killed and blacklisted from jobs, particularly those in the professional fields. The first and only Ambassador murdered in New York State was Cuban, shot to death in Queens. This dastardly deed was laughed by the Cuban exiles that boasted of the murder.

And of course the latest affront to any notion of decency and democracy from this murderous cabal is their call for the US to grant asylum to the mass murderer Luis Posado Carriles, who boasted in interviews that he was responsible for the 1973 bombing of a Cubano airline killing over 70 passenger, including a Cuban fencing team. (Carriles, by the war is an admirer of Hitler!). A number of those young people murdered were BLACK. But we won't hear anything about this from Nentoff!

There are currently a number of students from the US studying medicine in Cuba for free including the daughter of Professor Bill Sales, a graduate of Columbia who helped to organized Harlem residents against Columbia University's racist expansion in Harlem with their attempted land grab of Morningside Park to construct a Jim Crow gym. Since Harlem�s infant mortality rate is the highest of any community in the nation it is in our interest to support opportunities for young Black and Latino young people to become doctors with the intent of returning to serve their communities, a criteria established by the Cuban government. Not to mention thousands of students from Third World countries who have become doctors, thousands more in medical school, and thousands of Cuban doctors providing medical care to indigenous poverty-stricken countries in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean.

Opposition inside of Cuba against the Cuban government is fueled, funded and supported by the US State Department as was the ill- fated Bay of Pigs invasion. Despite this, the so called dissenters held their meeting without any interference from the Cuban government, after all what do they have to fear although these so called dissenters are advocating the overthrow on the Cuban government with the financial support of a foreign country! Rangel of course is correcting in asserting that the US congress has no business in �supporting insurgents overthrowing the [Castro] government.� What in the world is so strange about this position?

Hentoff heaps praise on "Oscar El�as Biscet Gonz�lez yet he has ignored the plight the Cuban Five languishing in US prisons because of monitoring the terrorist activities of Cuban American exile paramilitary groups. The wives of the Cuban Five are unable to visit them while the men, all model prisoners, are thrown into solidarity confinement for no reason at all. Carriles, himself was a CIA operative who murderous rampage included the bombing of a hotel in Havana in which an Italian tourist was murdered. Recent released files from the State Department confirms Carriles� extensive terrorist career even his long standing ties with the CIA.

I may disagree with Rangel on some issues, including his blind eye to the impact of gentrification on Harlem�s working and middle class but on this issue I will stand with Rangel any day. It is Rangel who has courage not these CIA paid operatives or Hentoff�s so called concern for Cuba�s black dissenters because the essence of this attack embodies Hentoff�s anti-socialist views and any excuse to attack Black City Councilman Charles Barron, a favorite target of the self righteous neo-liberal Nat man. I kept wondering how Hentoff would miraculously get his licks in against Barrron, and there in was in the concluding paragraph of this scurrilous piece. The real question is what world is Nentoff living in?

Nellie Bailey, Harlem Tenants Council

Co-chair of Cuba Solidarity New York

*Organizations listed for identification purpose only.