When Michael Moore traveled to Cuba to film scenes for his movie SiCKO, he failed to meet with a Cuban physician by the name of Oscar Elias Biscet who could’ve provided fascinating insights into that country’s medical system. It’s a shame Moore didn’t prevail upon his pals in the Cuban government to arrange a visit. An interview with Dr. Biscet easily would’ve been the most compelling scene in the movie. The difficulty, however, is that such an interview would’ve presented awkward problems both for the movie’s narrative and the reigning sentiment among many of Moore’s fans regarding Castro’s Cuba.
Ordinarily, the fact that Dr. Biscet is black, a follower of Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolence doctrine, and a political prisoner of an oppressive regime would ensure that his story would get widespread play. Actors, artists, authors, and activists would be clamoring for his release. Politicians would be making speeches condemning his treatment. Hollywood would be making movies about his struggles.
Instead, Biscet’s story has been buried. The celebrities, journalists, and civil-rights advocates who usually rally around figures like Biscet are silent — perhaps because his positions are disfavored by the glitterati: He’s pro-life, pro-individual liberty, and anti-Castro. For the Left, a more benighted and dangerous soul would be hard to find.
In fact, that’s precisely why Dr. Biscet just “celebrated” his 46th birthday in one of Castro’s dungeons: He was deemed a danger to the state and sentenced to 25 years in prison for supporting human rights by staging a peaceful hunger strike in his own home. He was one of approximately 75 human-rights activists, journalists, and librarians who were sentenced to lengthy prison terms during Castro’s 2003 crackdown on dissidents.
This is Biscet’s second stint in prison. He was initially released in October, 2002 after serving three years for the crime of “disrespect”. Among other things, according to the Catholic News Agency, Biscet had the impudence to publish a report — replete with statistics as well as testimonial accounts — describing alleged infanticide and abortion practices in the Cuban health-care system.
Biscet has a preternatural ability to drive Castro nuts. A black physician who exposes the depredations of Castro’s regime, including its vaunted medical system, punctures the rigorously guarded myths that Cuba is an egalitarian paradise with sterling health care for all. Consequently, not only has Biscet been imprisoned twice but he’s been arrested and detained nearly two dozen times for peacefully seeking basic human rights for all Cubans.
Michael Moore might find it interesting that even before Dr. Biscet was imprisoned he was barred from practicing medicine in the National Health System. Not because he was delivering poor quality care, (of course not; not in Cuba) but because Biscet was trying to secure for Cuban filmmakers and journalists the rights that Moore and all Americans take as a given.
Biscet’s condition is grave. Although reliable reports about his condition are sporadic because he’s rarely permitted visitors, it appears he’s lost at least 60 pounds during his latest confinement. While that may be a lot of weight, it’s a wonder he hasn’t lost even more. His treatment has been appalling even by the low standards applied to totalitarian regimes.
His cell is the stuff of a Victor Hugo novel: windowless and suffocating, with wretched sanitary conditions. The stench seeping from the pit in the ground that serves as a toilet is intensified by being compressed into an unventilated cell only as wide as a broom closet — and not much longer.
Biscet’s rarely permitted to leave this impossibly tiny cell that he somehow manages to share with a series of criminals who, it seems, are specifically selected by the authorities for violent tendencies, and who, Bisect maintains, are frequently incited by those authorities.
Biscet reportedly suffers from osteoarthritis, ulcers and hypertension. His teeth, those that haven’t fallen out, are rotted and infected. Water, if you can call it that, is at a premium. Prisoners often are forced to wash themselves and their clothing in water filled with feces and urine. Yet Biscet’s permitted no medicines or toiletries.
Nor is he allowed any communication with the outside world. He gets no newspapers. He can receive no visitors—not even doctors or clergy. Even his wife has only seen him fleetingly a few times over the last four years.
Despite the brutality and privation Biscet remains defiant. He somehow manages to compose brief, powerful anti-Castro letters that others smuggle out of the prison. He holds prayer vigils and hunger strikes. He continues to demand freedom and dignity for the Cuban people. In short, he insists on being an acute embarrassment to the dictatorship.
Dr. Biscet is one of many political prisoners in the Caribbean gulag (no, not Guantanamo, the accommodations at which are as a country day spa in comparison). Since Castro won’t allow human rights groups access to the prisons it’s hard to tell if the number is in the hundreds or the thousands. But the next time a besotted actor or director makes a pilgrimage to see the eloquent thug who rules the island, it wouldn’t hurt to ask. Or inquire — very respectfully, of course — as to when Dr. Biscet and all of Castro’s other victims will be released.
– Peter Kirsanow is a member of the National Labor Relations Board. He also is a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. These comments do not necessarily reflect the positions of either organization.