Monday, April 11, 2011

Oscar Elías Biscet says Cuban dissidents are willing to discuss transitional government

By JUAN CARLOS CHAVEZ Oscar Elías Biscet, the most important member of the opposition in Cuba, said dissidents would be willing to negotiate a transitional government to implement democratic measures that would avoid a civil war. “If the regime were willing to have talks, we have demands,” Biscet told El Nuevo Herald from Havana. “We want Raúl and Fidel Castro to resign because they have drowned the country in misery, political assassinations and persecution. Let them assign other people to represent their interests and let us begin a transition toward freedoms for the Cuban people.” Biscet was released on March 11 after mediation by the Cuban Catholic Church culminated in the release of 115 political prisoners. Fifty other prisoners are still jailed and there are no plans for their release. All, except Biscet and 12 others, accepted exile in Spain. “The fact that a group is not willing to leave the country is a way to show the world that our fight is about love of our country and dignity for human beings,” he said. “It seems to me that this favors the Cuban people’s cause.” Biscet, a 49-year-old doctor, said that Cuban authorities are giving the world and the people in Cuba false indications of change — allowing some to be self-employed, opening the country to foreign capital and opening a dialogue with dignitaries who advocate for human rights, such as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Carter met with the Castro brothers and Ricardo Alarcón, president of the National Assembly of Popular Power, and other officials during his visit to Havana last week. He also visited Alan P. Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor serving a 15-year prison sentence in Havana. Gross was arrested for carrying transmission equipment for independent groups. In his meeting with dissidents and bloggers, Carter was briefed on the economic, political and social crisis in the island, as well as on the corrupt, repressive and exclusionist nature of the regime. “We made it clear to Carter that a dictatorship rules Cuba and that no sovereignty exists,” Biscet said. “We were able to communicate some things, a brief synthesis of our thoughts.” About the Cuban economic situation Biscet said that any adjustment must be accompanied by policies that would guarantee, among other aspects, people’s fundamental rights, the legalization of independent groups and organizations within the civil society, religious freedoms and the release of all prisoners of conscience. “We want comprehensive changes and a market system associated to freedoms and things that lead to a harmonious and happy life in our nation,” he said. Biscet, founder of the Lawton Foundation for Democracy and Human Rights, accused the Cuban government of permitting acts of corruption and trumping up charges to get the members of civil society and their leaders out of the way. “It benefits the government to have corrupt people because with such characteristics they will not fight against them, and that is why they are allowed to exist,” he said. “And when they feel threatened that a new leader could emerge within their party or among those who govern with them, they attribute acts of corruption to them so they would not have any followers.” Biscet said that as long as a totalitarian dictatorship exists in Cuba there will always be a risk of raids and massive detentions of independent journalists and opponents, as was the case of the Black Spring of 2003. Biscet was serving a 15-year sentence after he and 74 other dissidents were arrested. Biscet had been arrested many times since 1998. “Everything is possible here. They are willing to go to any extent to never lose power,” he said. “This is one of the reasons why they do not sign any international or human-rights agreements, particularly those addressing basic freedoms.” He said that despite the Cuban government’s extreme vigilance of the opposition movement, there is a social force — the younger generation — escaping from the regime. “The Cuban youth does not believe in the system, and the spirit they are developing is not afraid of the government’s pressure. The fear the Castros wish to impose is not going to stop the wishes of the youth of pursuing the general welfare, including the economic and psychological perspectives,” Biscet said. “The youths will create their own space to accomplish their objectives.” Biscet also mentioned the work of the independent reporters and bloggers on the Internet, which threatens to bring down the government’s information monopoly that keeps the population uninformed of the denunciations and criticism against the regime. “They are giving the world different perspectives and ideas,” Biscet said. “And when these emerge everything else finds its place. This is very important for us because, associated to the state terrorist activities, the government wants to control all the information to continue deceiving the population.” In 2007, the Bush administration gave Biscet the Medal of Freedom in absentia in recognition of his opposition activities and his appeals to civil disobedience. Biscet said the U.S. government’s financial support is essential to promote democracy in Cuba. Recently Sen. John Kerry, who presides over the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee, announced his opposition to $20 million included in the 2012 budget to promote democracy in Cuba. “Kerry must know that resources are needed for this type of fight and he knows very well that Cubans in the island do not have those resources,” Biscet said. “If we are able to resist it’s because of our high morale not because we have resources. Here we have to depend on people’s mercy to survive.”

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