Monday, November 26, 2007


By Pablo Bachelet McClatchy Newspapers

Posted on Monday, November 5, 2007

WASHINGTON - Winnie Biscet remembers Oscar Elias Biscet as any daughter might her divorced father: he pampered her during weekend visits, once giving her a puppy, on another occasion, a BMX bike, a prized possession in Cuba.

He picked her up at school every day. A devout Baptist, he never smacked her when she misbehaved.

Then in 1999, he vanished. That's when she learned that her doctor father was also a Cuban human rights activist. He would spend her teen years in jail, where he still languishes, serving a 25-year sentence.

"He told me they can arrest me, but they can't finish me off," Winnie, now 19, told McClatchy Newspapers. "He told me not to worry, that some day we will be together."

On Monday, President Bush awarded Biscet the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one the United States' two top honors for a civilian (the other is the Congressional Gold Medal). Winnie and Biscet's stepson, Yan Morejon, planned to attend the ceremony.

It's an honor that will cement Biscet's growing role as the face of Cuba's jailed dissidents, even though the Afro-Cuban doctor is far from a household name in his own country, where the media are under strict state control.

Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who lobbied the White House for months to give the medal to Biscet, believes Biscet will galvanize his country someday the way Lech Walesa did in Poland, Vaclav Havel did in the Czech Republic or Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
"He is a man of the revolution, who grew up in this corrupt system of the Castro thugs and has only known that system, and he's rejected (that) in favor of peace, democracy and liberty," she said. "And so I thought that he would be the fitting symbol for this movement that will sweep the island of Cuba."

Interviews with Winnie, other family members and human rights advocates who know him paint a portrait of Biscet as a devout doctor with an ability to connect with ordinary folks and a determination to use Gandhi-like means to end a communist system he considers oppressive.
Biscet was born poor. His father worked at the Havana port and his mother was an office assistant. Studious and disciplined, he graduated from medical school in 1985. His troubles with Cuban authorities began shortly thereafter. He protested the long hours and was suspended for one year from Havana's National Hospital.

In 1997, he founded the Lawton Foundation on Human Rights, named for his Havana neighborhood, and conducted a clandestine study of the high abortion rates in Cuba. In February 1998, he was expelled from the Cuban health system.
His opposition work went into overdrive. Between June 1998 and November 1999, he was arrested 26 times.

On one occasion, he marked the anniversary of the 1996 downing of two Brothers to the Rescue aircraft by Cuban MiGs by publicly displaying large photographs of the four pilots killed in that incident. He wrote a letter to the Baltimore Orioles in March 1999, imploring Cal Ripken not to play in Cuba.

In mid-1999, his group carried out a 40-day "liquid-only" fast — one for each year of Fidel Castro's rule. Biscet expressed himself in biblical terms, noting the battle was not just against Castro. "We fight against evil, not the evil-doers," he told an interviewer.
Castro called Biscet "a little crazy man."

At a press conference in late 1999, Biscet displayed three Cuban flags upside down, which he said was a historic form a protest by Cuban patriots.

He was arrested and charged with dishonoring national symbols, public disorder and inciting delinquent behavior.

"In no moment was there an intention to dishonor national symbols," Biscet told a three-member tribunal that would condemn him to three years in jail. "I respect those symbols. I am Cuban."

After his release in 2002, Winnie Biscet recalls throngs of neighbors in the mostly poor black neighborhood of Lawton flocking to her parents' house to greet her father.

"My father isn't that well-known, but the people who know him loved him as if he were a president," she said.

Thirty-six days later, on Dec. 3, 2002, Biscet was arrested again. Four months later, he would be condemned to 25 years in jail for receiving money and help from the United States, along with 74 other activists, in what became Cuba's harshest crackdown on dissidents in decades.
Elsa Morejon, Biscet's second wife, told McClatchy Newspapers by phone from Havana that her husband had called her last Tuesday from the Combinado del Este maximum security prison and already knew he'd won the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

"He told me he would dedicate the medal to the victims of communism in the world and to Cubans who want a free Cuba," she said.

Angel Garrido, a fellow doctor who runs the Miami chapter of the Lawton Foundation, said the jailed dissident had instructed stepson Yan to keep the medal in Miami, until Cuba is free.

Seven other people received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Monday. They are: Gary S. Becker, an economist at the University of Chicago; Francis S. Collins, who led the Human Genome Project to map the full human genome; Benjamin L. Hooks, the former executive director of the NAACP; Henry J. Hyde, the former Republican Illinois congressman; Brian P. Lamb, the founder of CSPAN; Harper Lee, the author of "To Kill a Mockingbird," and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia's first female president.

� McClatchy Newspapers 2007


Jailed Castro critic to be awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

By Pablo Bachelet McClatchy Newspapers
Posted on Monday, October 29, 2007

WASHINGTON — Oscar Elias Biscet, jailed for the better part of the last decade as one of Fidel Castro's harshest critics, was named by President Bush Monday to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Confined to a Cuban maximum-security prison since 2003, Biscet was one of eight people named to receive the award — one of the highest U.S. government awards given to civilians. Other winners include Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Harper Lee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Biscet's outspoken ways and his multiple trips to jail have made the Afro-Cuban one of Castro's most prominent opponents. He's opposed the Communist government since 1986, when as a recent medical graduate he protested the long hours that doctors had to work without pay. Between June 1998 and November 1999, he was arrested 26 times.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., had lobbied the White House to give the medal to Biscet and repeated the request when she met Bush in Miami on Oct. 12. Bush mentioned Biscet in a speech last week, in which he cited Cuba's human rights record to justify his continued tough stance against the Castro government.

In 1997, Biscet founded the Lawton Foundation of Human Rights, which denounced rights abuses in Cuba and campaigns for democracy. Later that year, the group unveiled a study on abortions on the island and documented instances in which newborns were killed in Cuban hospitals.

During Pope John Paul II's trip to Havana in January 1998, the group used banners and posters to call for the release of political prisoners.

That year, Biscet was kicked out of the Cuban National Health System, making it impossible him to work as a physician. In 1999, he was sentenced to three years in jail for public disorder, "inciting delinquent behavior'' and displaying the Cuban flag upside down.

Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience in 1999. The advocacy group lists 62 prisoners of conscience in Cuba and says many others are imprisoned for political motivations.

Biscet was released in late 2002 and then, just over a month later, he was arrested again, in the spring 2003 crackdown on dissent. He was sentenced to 25 years as a threat against the state.
According to his wife, Elsa Morejon, Biscet is held in a maximum security prison called Combinado del Este in Havana. Family visits are allowed once every three months and conjugal visits once every four months. He's confined to a cell with no mattress and no light or chair, among other deprivations.

Biscet suffers from high blood pressure, joint pain and failing eyesight, according to Morejon.
The White House called Biscet "a champion in the fight against tyranny and oppression.''
"Despite being persecuted and imprisoned for his beliefs,'' the White House said in a statement, "he continues to advocate for a free Cuba in which the rights of all people are respected.''
The award winners will be honored on Nov. 5.

Gary S. Becker has broadened the spectrum of economics and social science through his analysis of the interaction between economics and topics such as education, demography, and family organization. His work has helped improve the standard of living for people around the world.
Oscar Elias Biscet is a champion in the fight against tyranny and oppression. Despite being persecuted and imprisoned for his beliefs, he continues to advocate for a free Cuba in which the rights of all people are respected.

Francis S. Collins has revolutionized genetic research. Under his leadership, the Human Genome Project mapped and sequenced the full human genome and greatly expanded our understanding of human DNA.

Benjamin L. Hooks has dedicated his life to equality, opportunity, and justice. He is a pioneer of the Civil Rights movement, and his efforts to extend the full promise of America to all its citizens have helped bring our Nation closer to its founding ideals.

Henry J. Hyde has served America with distinction. During his career in the House of Representatives, he was a powerful defender of life and a leading advocate for a strong national defense and for freedom around the world.

Brian P. Lamb has elevated America's public debate and helped open up our government to citizens across the Nation. His dedication to a transparent political system and the free flow of ideas has enriched and strengthened our democracy.

Harper Lee has made an outstanding contribution to America's literary tradition. At a critical moment in our history, her beautiful book, "To Kill a Mockingbird," helped focus the nation on the turbulent struggle for equality.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has helped heal a country torn apart by conflict through perseverance, personal courage, and an unwavering commitment to building a more hopeful future for her homeland. The first woman elected president of an African nation, she has worked to expand freedom and improve the lives of people in Liberia and across Africa.

(Source: White House)
(Lesley Clark contributed.)
McClatchy Newspapers 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007


(NOTE: This article was published on November 11, 2007 in DIARIO LAS AMERICAS)

Publicado el 11-06-2007


El presidente de Estados Unidos, George W. Bush, le entregó este lunes a la familia del disidente cubano preso Oscar Elías Biscet la Medalla Presidencial de la Libertad.

“Para la dictadura cubana el señor Biscet es un “hombre peligroso”... tanto como Martin Luther King o Ghandi”, indicó Bush durante la ceremonia en la Casa Blanca.

“Es un hombre de paz, que ama la verdad, y es un hombre de fe”, señaló antes de otorgar la medalla --el mayor honor con que el presidente de Estados Unidos puede distinguir a un ciudadano-- al hijo de Biscet, Yan Valdés.

Biscet es un médico, que fundó una organización de derechos humanos y a quien, por sus actividades, el régimen comunista de Fidel Castro, sentenció en 1999 a 25 años de cárcel.
Bush definió a Biscet “como a un gran hombre con un corazón poderoso”.

“Por decir la verdad el doctor Biscet ha sufrido agresiones, golpizas y detenciones”, indicó el presidente. “Su ejemplo es una reprimenda a los tiranos y a la policía secreta de un régimen cuyos días están contados”, agregó.

El presidente de EE.UU., George W. Bush, resaltó hoy la trayectoria como defensor de los derechos humanos del opositor cubano Óscar Elías Biscet, encarcelado en 2003 y condenado a 25 años de prisión, al distinguirlo con la Medalla de la Libertad.

En un acto celebrado en la Casa Blanca, el mandatario entregó el galardón, la máxima condecoración que puede recibir un civil en EE.UU., al hijo de Biscet, Yan Valdés, quien contó con el apoyo de su hermana, Winnie.

En declaraciones a Efe, Yan Valdés se mostró “contento y feliz” por la distinción a su padre, porque “se ha reconocido sus ideales y su lucha por la democracia y los derechos humanos”.

Su padre recibió la noticia con un sentimiento agridulce, ya que, por un lado, está triste porque “se encuentra muy enfermo y, por otro, cree que el galardón es el justo reconocimiento” por su labor y le da “ánimo para seguir luchando y mantenerse firme”.

Tanto Óscar Elías Biscet, como toda su familia, cree “firmemente” que pronto va a estar libre.
“Si nos unimos todos, y con la ayuda de la comunidad internacional, lo conseguiremos”, subrayó Valdés en una entrevista telefónica.

En la ceremonia, transmitida en directo a Cuba, Bush elogió la labor de Biscet como “curandero, médico, y defensor de los derechos humanos”, así como su “coraje y dignidad” por continuar luchando por una Cuba libre.

“Durante dos décadas, él (Biscet) ha contado al mundo lo que ha visto en Cuba: la arrogancia de un Estado con un único partido, la represión de disidentes políticos y la coerción de futuras madres”, señaló Bush en su breve discurso ante los galardonados, congresistas y miembros de su gabinete.

Según Bush, el opositor cubano ha soportado acoso, malos tratos y detenciones de manera repetida “por pronunciar la verdad”, y a pesar de que la comunidad internacional considera injusto su encarcelamiento y ha pedido en numerosas ocasiones su puesta en libertad, “el régimen (cubano) ha hecho caso omiso a cada uno de sus llamamientos”.

El médico cubano, que preside la Fundación Lawton, ilegal en Cuba, está reconocido por la organización Amnistía Internacional como preso político.

Bush ironizó la posición de la dictadura cubana de tildar a Biscet de hombre peligroso. “Es igual de peligroso que lo fueron Martin Luther King y (Mahatma) Gandhi; es un hombre de paz, de la verdad y de fe”, señaló.

También aprovechó la ocasión para augurar, una vez más, “el fin de los días de los tiranos y la policía secreta del régimen” y para señalar que la “tierra que llaman casa (los cubanos) merece ser libre”.

“Cuando este día llegue, la gente de Cuba y de los Estados Unidos estaremos juntos como hombres y mujeres libres”, afirmó Bush, quien expresó su esperanza, de que, “si Dios quiere”, Biscet recupere pronto su libertad, “tal y como lo requiere la justicia”.

En la misma ceremonia, Bush también otorgó a otras siete personalidades la Medalla de la Libertad.

Uno de estos premiados fue el economista Gary S. Becker, uno de los expertos que más ha profundizado en la relación entre la economía y la vida social.

El científico y director del programa del Genoma Humano, Francis S. Collins, fue otro de los galardonados, junto al pionero en el movimiento de los derechos civiles Benjamin L. Hooks.

Bush le concedió igualmente la medalla al congresista republicano por Illinois Henry J. Hyde y al presidente de la cadena de televisión C-SPAN, Brian Lamb, cuya empresa retransmite ruedas de prensa e información institucional.

Asimismo fueron distinguidas la escritora Nelle Harper Lee, autora de “To Kill a Mockingbird” (“Matar a un ruiseñor”), y la presidenta de Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, “quien ha velado por los derechos democráticos de sus conciudadanos”, recordó Bush.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


(Vean el testimonio en español abajo)
Personal testimony

November 16, 2007 / APLO Press /

Kilo 8 Prison
Camagüey, Cuba

“I’m letting it be known that my state of health is failing at an extremely dangerous pace. My physical well-being remains under the Sword of Damocles, and I could die. My days are slowly coming to an end because of the various dangerous illnesses from which I suffer: high blood pressure, a right bundle branch block in my heart, hypertensive retinopathy, a heart murmur, a pyloric-duodenal prolapse, chronic dermatitis, asthma, cervical arthritis, lumbo-sacral arthralgia, vitiligo, kidney and liver disorders, and an obvious immunological deficiency. I’m extremely underweight, which is quite worrisome.

Faced with this dangerous picture, prison authorities have demonstrated a policy of disinterest and indifference until last October 23rd when I sewed my mouth shut as a fair complaint against the violation of my rights and the awful living conditions under which I am kept as if I were a wild animal while the prison officials’ dogs live under exceptional conditions.
I held firm for 8 days without eating and taking in very little water, which made the state and prison police take note. On November 2nd, I was moved to the Department of Medical Services of MININT during the night. This step was in vain because the favorable conditions did not exist to do tests on me. They were postponed until the next day around noon when I was submitted to an endoscopy and a biopsy in the area of the esophagus, stomach, and intestine. The exams showed a large inflammation around there, giardiasis and a hiatal hernia, as well as bacteria that, from what became clear and from the silence shown, are a malignant kind. (H. Pylori)
The situation turned out to be much more threatening to my life that expected. I don’t harbor a single hope of getting out of this monstrous place alive. Clearly my days are numbered, and, as usual, the Cuban regime will not let me meet with those whom I love before I die—it’s a policy of vengeance and settling of scores. Since I don’t reject the possibility of a clinically induced death, neither do I reject the possibility of being the next Miguel Valdés Tamayo. Yet, in spite of this dangerous outlook, I’m letting my brothers know that I’ll continue giving as much as I can. I will continue my firm stance in defense of human rights with my campaign of accusations towards murders and cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatments.

Life is of little importance when firm and true ideas exist to defend. Eleven million Cubans suffer the vengeful shots of a tyranny in order to defend the right to a free, inclusive, pluralistic, and respectful country for everyone, one like the most highly regarded of all Cubans, José Martí, dreamed of. Until the last moment of my life, I will continue to stick to my patriotic ideals. When I die, one more political assassination will fall upon the back of this tyranny.

I will not ask for pity from those who torture me physically and psychologically. I proclaim my critical situation to the international community, and may it, along with my fellow Cubans in exile, accuse the regime in Havana. I will not be the first or the last to lose my life in Castro’s dungeons. There have been others throughout these fifty years of harsh dictatorship who have tried to restore a civil society. Cubans have the right to freedom, to a plurality of criteria, to free and transparent elections. Cuba deserves to occupy the empty seat that is waiting for her among the elite number of democratic nations.

Let all Cubans in exile and those that determinedly and peacefully struggle in the streets know that I will not give up. As a dignified follower of the ideas of Varela, Martí, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, I will not bow down, nor will my knees give way. I will continue from this dark place in support of this noble and just cause.

I cannot deny that it’s been a hard blow for me to know that I’m dying. I would love to contribute more so that a bright and promising future could add luster to our currently tarnished country from a entelechy, a breed of gangsters and mafia. I’m not afraid to face death. I’m not afraid for them to kill me. Whatever happens will happen; all will unfold as it’s supposed to be. I ask my brothers in the struggle not to become discouraged, to continue forward. From Castro’s gulag, I extend my message of hope.

I have begun a new battle, this time for my life. A young Canadian named Terry Fox, knowing that cancer was eating up his whole body and with an amputated leg, ran thousands of kilometers before dying, and he never lost heart in his efforts. For me, it would be a very high honor to be added to the list of Castro’s victims. They will not succeed in extracting a cry of pity. I believe I can give even more and provide much more for our children and this country so that all can live in complete freedom.

I am very physically weak, but I’m strong spiritually. I know nothing is in vain, and I reiterate that my situation has become much more critical. I face this harsh reality. Nothing will dishearten me. Since November 3rd when I found out just how critical my health was, I have received a show of solidarity on the part of many prisoners that strengthens me.

To my brothers of the honorable political prisoners group, Pedro Luis Boitel, and especially to that tireless fighter, Jorge Luis García Pérez, “Antúnez,” I want you to know that Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta will stand up and face the terror until his last day. My weakened and critical state of health is one more example of the cruel and inhumane Cuban prison system. The world should not support the pain that those behind bars suffer for defending the right to life, to total liberty. This is the price one pays under the auspices of Castro and to which I aspire with stoicism and as a worthy son of this country.

*Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, 41, was sentenced to 20 years in jail in March, 2003. He is a prisoner of conscience of the Group of 75. He is an independent journalist, a member of the Cuban Council of Rapporteurs of Human Rights and the national coordinator of the Youth for Democracy Movement. His address is Calle 3 Oeste #1105 e/ Pintó y Varonal, Guantánamo, Cuba.

This testimony was given from Kilo 8 Prison on November 7, 2007.

All rights reserved:

Translation: The Coalition of Cuban-American Women ( /
Tanya S. Wilder / Email:
Original article in Spanish:
Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta lucha por su vida
Testimonio / 15 de noviembre de 2007 / APLO Press
Prision Kilo 8, Camagüey, Cuba – – “Pongo en conocimiento que mi estado de salud se ha quebrantado a un ritmo vertiginoso y en extremo peligroso, que pone mi integridad física bajo una espada de Damocles y puedo perder la vida. Lentamente mis días se están apagando debido al padecimiento de varias enfermedades peligrosas como son: hipertensión arterial, bloqueo de rama derecha, retinopatía hipertensiva, soplo en el corazón, prolapso pilórico duodenal, dermatitis crónica, asma, artrosis cervical, sacrolumbargia, vitiligo, trastornos renales, hepáticos y una clara deficiencia inmunológica.

Desde hace varios meses se ha visto un claro deterioro de mi salud, me encuentro muy bajo de peso, caso este preocupante. Frente a todo este cuadro peligroso, las autoridades carcelarias mostraron una política de desinterés e indiferencia hasta que el pasado 23 de octubre decidí coserme la boca en justo reclamo de todos mis derechos violados y por las pésimas condiciones de vida en que soy mantenido cual si fuera un animal salvaje, mientras los perros de la gendarmería poseen condiciones excepcionales.

Mi postura se mantuvo durante 8 días sin ingerir alimentos y muy poca agua, que hizo llamar la atención de la policía política y de prisiones. El pasado 2 de noviembre fui trasladado hacia el Departamento de Servicios Médicos del MININT en horas de la noche, toda gestión en vano, por no existir las condiciones propicias para practicarme unas pruebas, siendo pospuestas para el día siguiente en horas del mediodía, donde me sometieron a un examen de endoscopía y una biopsia en la zona del esófago, estómago y duodeno. La misma fue practicada y arrojó gran inflamación en el esófago, estómago y el duodeno, giardiasis, una hernia hiatal, además de bacterias que por lo que se vislumbra y el silencio mostrado son del tipo maligna (H.Pilori).

La situación resultó ser más peligrosa para mi vida de lo previsto. No albergo esperanza alguna de salir con vida de este monstruoso lugar, claramente mis días ya se van apagando y el régimen cubano, junto a su policía política no me permitirán reunirme con mis seres queridos antes de morir como método, política de venganza y ajuste de cuenta. Como no descarto una muerte clínicamente inducida, tampoco descarto la posibilidad de ser el próximo Miguel Valdés Tamayo, pero a pesar de todo este cuadro peligroso hago saber a mis hermanos que continuaré dando cuanto pueda, lo seguiré con mi postura firme de defensa a los derechos humanos, con mi campaña de denuncia frente a los asesinatos y tratos crueles e inhumanos y degradantes.

La vida es poco cuando existen ideas firmes y verdaderas que defender. Once millones de cubanos sufren la metralla vengativa de una tiranía por defender el derecho a una patria libre, incluyente, plural y respetuosa como soñara el más excelso de todos los cubanos, José Martí, con todos y para el bien de todos,… nuevamente fui llevado a prisión… es poco… que hasta el último momento de mi vida continuaré apegado a mis ideales patrios, con mi muerte recaerá sobre esta tiranía otro asesinato político más.

No clamaré piedad a los que hoy me torturan física y psicológicamente. Pongo en conocimiento de la comunidad internacional mi crítica situación y que sea ella, junto a mis hermanos del exilio, quienes usen y acusen al régimen de La Habana. No seré el primero ni el último que pierda la vida dentro de las ergástulas castristas, otros han quedado a lo largo de estos casi 50 años de férrea dictadura y que han intentado restaurar la sociedad civil cautiva. Los cubanos tenemos derecho a la libertad, a la pluralidad de criterios, elecciones libres y transparentes. Cuba merece ocupar la silla vacía que le espera dentro de la elite de naciones democráticas.

Hoy debo enfrentar con valor esta triste realidad, que sepan todos los cubanos, los que se encuentran en la diáspora y los que denodadamente luchan en las calles pacíficamente que no claudicaré, no bajaré la cerviz, ni mis rodillas se doblarán como digno seguidor de las ideas de Varela, Martí, Gandhi, Martin Luther King. Continuaré desde este oscuro lugar dando mi aporte a esta noble y justa causa.

No puedo negar que para mi ha sido un duro golpe conocer que mis días están contados y quisiera aportar más para que un futuro luminoso y promisorio ilumine nuestra hoy mancillada patria en poder de una entelequia, una casta de pandilleros y mafiosos. No temo enfrentar la muerte, no temo que me asesinen, suceda lo que suceda, sea el desenlace que sea, solicito a mis hermanos de lucha que no se amilanen, que continúen adelante, desde los gulag castristas extiendo mi mensaje esperanzador.

He comenzado una nueva batalla, esta vez por la vida. Un joven canadiense llamado Ferry Fox, sabiendo que un cáncer carcomía todo su cuerpo y con una pierna amputada supo recorrer kilómetros, contados por miles hasta morir y nunca desmayó en su empeño, para mi sería un altísimo honor engrosar la lista de las víctimas del castrismo. No lograrán arrancar un clamor de piedad, creo que aún puedo dar más, aportar mucho más para nuestros hijos y este pueblo pueda disfrutar de la plena libertad. Aun bajo este crítico estado de salud el régimen cubano me mantiene bajo un inhumano encierro en condiciones deplorables, incompatibles con mis enfermedades.

Me encuentro débil físicamente, pero muy bien fortalecido espiritualmente, sabiendo que nada es en vano, reitero que la situación se ha tornado mucho más crítica de rutilante y enfrento esta dura realidad. Nada me amilanará, por el contrario, desde que el pasado 3 de noviembre conocí del agravamiento de mi estado de salud he recibido por parte de muchos reclusos muestras de solidaridad que me fortalecen.

A mis hermanos del honroso presidio político Pedro Luis Boitel, en especial a ese incansable luchador Jorge Luís García Pérez “Antúnez”, les hago saber que Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta se mantendrá hasta el último de sus días de pie frente al terror. Mi depauperado y crítico estado de salud da una muestra más de lo cruel e inhumano del sistema carcelario cubano. El mundo no debe darle la espalda al dolor de los que sufren tras la reja por defender el derecho a la vida, es decir a la libertad plena. Este es el precio a pagar bajo la égida castrista y al cual aspiré con estoicismo y como digno hijo de esta tierra.

* Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, de 41 años de edad, fue condenado a 20 años de cárcel en marzo del 2003, es prisionero de conciencia del Grupo de los 75, periodista independiente, miembro del consejo de Relatores de Derechos Humanos de Cuba y coordinador nacional del Movimiento Jóvenes por la Democracia. Reside en la calle 3 Oeste #1105 e/ Pintó y Varona, Guantánamo, Cuba.
Desde la prisión de K-8, dado a los 7 días del mes de noviembre de 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Source: Diario Las Americas
Publicado el 10-11-2007

Defensores de los derechos humanos denunciaron hoy el peligro de muerte que corren muchos presos políticos en Cuba, que cayeron enfermos debido a las “condiciones inhumanas” en las cárceles de la isla.

El Directorio Democrático Cubano junto con el Colegio de Abogados de la isla realizaron esa denuncia durante una audiencia del 130 período de sesiones de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) de la OEA.

Según estos grupos, lejos de acatar las recomendaciones de liberación inmediata y reparo a las víctimas establecidas por este organismo, el Gobierno de La Habana continúa atentando contra los derechos humanos de los presos políticos.

En marzo de 2003, más de 70 cubanos fueron detenidos y encarcelados entre 6 meses y 28 años por haber hecho públicas sus ideas, según los activistas.

Desde entonces, 16 de ellos han sido excarcelados por motivos de salud, que las autoridades cubanas han descrito con el término legal de “licencia extrapenal”.

Cinco de ellos han salido al exilio, mientras que los otros 11, según los testimonios de la audiencia, “permanecen hostigados” en Cuba.

El trato que reciben estos presos de conciencia “viola todo tipo de normas internacionales y la convención de Ginebra”, afirmó la activista Laida Carro, del Directorio Democrático.

“Las condiciones en las que tienen retenidos a estos presos les están ocasionando una muerte cruel y lenta. La vida se les acaba un poco cada día”, añadió.

Carro denunció además la falta de independencia jurídica en Cuba y que, pese a que los prisioneros presentan pruebas del maltrato físico, las autoridades cubanas los tachan de “mentirosos”.

En declaraciones a Efe, Yamilé Llanes Labrada, esposa del preso político José Luis García Paneque, dijo que éste padece de un síndrome de mala absorción intestinal y que las condiciones en la cárcel sólo empeoran su problema.

“Para su recuperación depende de una dieta estricta imposible de conseguir en una cárcel cubana”, dijo Llanes al describir el grave estado de salud de García Paneque, quien purga una sentencia de 24 años de prisión.

Llanes se quejó además de “una campaña de descrédito” contra su marido y contra ella, en la que se les “presentaba como terroristas”, y que sus cuatro hijos han sido víctima de burlas por parte de sus compañeros de escuela.

Tras su intervención ante la CIDH, Llanes fue recibida por el presidente de EE.UU., George W. Bush, quien instó de nuevo al Gobierno cubano a que ponga en libertad a todos los presos políticos.

El Gobierno de Cuba, que no forma parte de la OEA, ha negado que la CIDH tenga jurisdicción o autoridad moral en la isla.

La CIDH anunció hoy que ha invitado al Gobierno cubano a que participe en un seminario sobre la protección de los presos, que se llevará a cabo el mes próximo en Buenos Aires.


(NOTE: This article was published in The Boston Globe on Sunday, November 4, 2007--the day before Dr. Oscar E. Biscet González was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George Bush.)

por Jeff Jacoby

En una ceremonia en la Casa Blanca mañana, el Presidente Bush impondrá la Medalla Presidencial de la Libertad, la distinción civil más elevada de la nación, a ocho destacados hombres y mujeres. Entre los laureados estarán el veterano activista de los derechos civiles Benjamin Hooks; Harper Lee, autor de la tan apreciada novela “Matar a un ruiseñor”; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf de Liberia, la primera mujer elegida presidente de una nación africana; y el fundador y presidente de C-SPAN, Brian Lamb.

Uno de los homenajeados, sin embargo, no estará presente. En lugar de unirse al presidente en medio de la pompa y las galas de la Casa Blanca, el Dr. Óscar Elías Biscet [] pasará el día encerrado en una fétida celda de la cárcel de Combinado del Este, en La Habana, donde está cumpliendo una pena de 25 años de cárcel por pronunciarse contra la dictadura de Fidel Castro.

Peter Kirsanow, miembro de la Comisión de Derechos Civiles de los Estados Unidos, ha escrito que las condiciones del encarcelamiento de Biscet son como algo sacado de Víctor Hugo : "Sin ventanas y con temperatura sofocante, con condiciones sanitarias casi inexistentes. El hedor que se filtra del agujero en el suelo que sirve como retrete es intensificado estando comprimido en una celda sin ventilación del tamaño de un armario de limpieza... Biscet sufre osteoartritis según se informa, úlceras e hipertensión. Sus dientes, aquellos que no se han caído, están infectados y careados”.

Médico antiabortista cristiano, Biscet se desligó por primera vez del régimen de Castro en los años 90 cuando investigaba las técnicas cubanas de aborto-- Cuba tiene con diferencia las tasas de aborto más elevadas del hemisferio occidental -- y daba a conocer que numerosos niños habían sido asesinados tras ser paridos con vida. En 1997, inició de la Fundación Lawton para los Derechos Humanos , que pretende "establecer en Cuba un estado basado en el estado de derecho" y "apoyado en la Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos". Entre junio de 1998 y noviembre de 1999 fue detenido en 26 ocasiones; en 1991 fue condenado a 3 años de prisión por "falta de respeto a los símbolos patrióticos". Con el fin de protestar por la represión del régimen, había colgado una bandera cubana del revés.

Durante décadas, diversos periodistas y celebridades norteamericanas han pregonado maravillas del presunto paraíso isleño de Castro, ignorando con resolución las montañas de pruebas de que en realidad es una mazmorra tropical. Decididos a ver a Castro como héroe revolucionario y a Cuba como Shangri-la, evitan voluntariamente poner sus ojos en los héroes genuinos de la isla -- los presos de conciencia como Biscet que pagan un precio terrorífico por su insistencia en contar la verdad.

El centro norteamericano de detención en la bahía de Guantánamo es en ocasiones mencionado como si fuera un campo de concentración caribeño, pero las únicas instalaciones que merecen tal etiqueta son los agujeros como Combinado del Este, en donde Biscet y tantos otros disidentes cubanos han sido brutalmente torturados -- o peor. A lo largo de los años, la vida en el gulag de Castro ha sido bien documentada. La narrativa clásica es Contra toda esperanza, de Armando Valladares, un recuerdo claro y acuciante, publicado por primera vez en 1985, de los 22 años del autor en las espantosas cárceles de Cuba.

El relato más novedoso de la vida como preso político cubano es Combatiendo a Castro: una historia de amor, la afectada e inspiradora saga del amor mutuo entre una pareja cubana y su patria, de Kay Abella, y las crueldades, grandes y pequeñas, infligidas a aquellos que desafían al régimen.

Para Lino Fernández, un joven médico que paga su resistencia democrática con 17 años entre rejas, esas crueldades son sádicas y con frecuencia sangrientas. Abella describe, por ejemplo, cómo fue experimentar una requisa -- un registro por parte de los carceleros -- en la famosa fortaleza redonda de Isla de Pinos:
“El rugido de la horda invasora... apaleando con virulencia a hombres desarmados y débiles a causa de la malnutrición y el confinamiento. Una masa berreante de soldados pululando alrededor del patio, apuñalando con bayonetas, rompiendo caderas con las culatas y cadenas envueltas en caucho. El pánico de no tener ningún sitio donde esconderte, sabiendo que serás golpeada más duro por intentar protegerte, pisoteada por agarrarte a un pilar o a una barandilla, tirada escaleras abajo por atreverte a dudar... La indignidad de hombres gimoteando, suplicando, lloriqueando antes de que un cráneo sea aplastado, un hombro extraído de su cuenca, unos genitales aplastados con la empuñadura de un arma”.

Para las familias de los presos políticos, las crueldades vienen en otras formas, como las humillantes exploraciones sin ropa en las infrecuentes ocasiones en las que se permite una visita a la cárcel, o la presión ejercida sobre los niños para que manifiesten lealtad al Partido Comunista que ha encarcelado a su padre. Y está la privación económica: la esposa de Óscar Biscet, Elsa Morejón, es enfermera acreditada, pero se le prohíbe ocupar un empleo profesional en Cuba desde 1998.

La conciencia y el valor de estos disidentes son como poco extraordinarios. "Durante estos años aquí en la cárcel" escribía Biscet a Elsa en una carta sacada de la cárcel de contrabando a comienzos de este año, "he visto cosas vergonzosas que soy incapaz de describirte con palabras a causa de su perversidad y su ataque a... la sociedad civilizada. A pesar de esta difícil situación, no me siento intimidado ni me retracto de mi opinión en ningún sentido... Cumpliré esta injusta sentencia hasta que el Altísimo le ponga fin”.

Jeff Jacoby es columnista de The Boston Globe. Sus artículos pueden recibirse en

Monday, November 05, 2007


For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 5, 2007
President Bush Honors Medal of Freedom Recipients

(NOTE: To watch the entire ceremony, click here: Video of ceremony)

10:01 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Laura and I are thrilled to welcome you to the White House. We welcome the members of Congress, the members of the Cabinet, and other distinguished guests. It's an honor to be with the Medal of Freedom recipients, as well as their family members and friends. We're sure glad you're here.

The Medal of Freedom is the highest civil honor that a President can bestow. By an executive order of John F. Kennedy, the medal is designed to recognize great contributions to national security, the cause of peace and freedom, science, the arts, literature, and many other fields. The eight men and women came to this distinction by very different paths. Each of them, by effort and by character, has earned the respect of the American people, and holds a unique place in the story of our time.

Our first honoree, Dr. Gary Becker, once said, "Many intellectuals, many economists, use obscure language when they write. Sometimes it's a way of disguising that they are not saying a heck of a lot." This economist, however, is different. Gary Becker's many books and articles, and his 19 years as a weekly columnist, have provided -- proved him to be a thinker of originality and clarity.

Dr. Becker has shown that economic principles do not just exist in theory. Instead they help to explain human behavior in fields well beyond economics. He has shown that by applying these principles to public policy, we can make great strides in promoting enterprise and public safety, protecting the environment, improving public schools, and strengthening the family. Dr. Becker has explained, as well, the real value of investing in human capital -- he knows full well that an educated and well-trained workforce adds to the vigors of our economy, and helps raise the standard of living for all of us.

This longtime professor at the University of Chicago has helped train hundreds of talented economists. He has been a wise and challenging presence in the lives of his students, and they remain devoted to him. One close friend said, "A 15-minute conversation with Gary Becker can change your thinking forever." He is without question one of the most influential economists of the last hundred years. With today's honor, he is one of only two persons to have received both the Nobel Prize in Economics and the Medal of Freedom. The other was the late Milton Friedman. And I know that today Dr. Friedman would be very proud of his friend, and student, and colleague, Dr. Gary Becker. Congratulations. (Applause.)

The Medal of Freedom for Oscar Elias Biscet will be accepted this morning by his son, Yan Valdes. His daughter, Winnie, is also present. Dr. Biscet is not with us today, because he is a political prisoner of the regime in Havana. This ceremony at the White House is being broadcast live into Cuba. To the citizens of that land, I send the respect and good wishes of the United States.

Oscar Biscet is a healer -- known to 11 million Cubans as a physician, a community organizer, and an advocate for human rights. For two decades, he has told the world what he has seen in Cuba: the arrogance of a one-party state; the suppression of political dissent; the coercion of expectant mothers. For speaking the truth Dr. Biscet has endured repeated harassment, beatings, and detentions. The international community agrees that Dr. Biscet's imprisonment is unjust, yet the regime has refused every call for his release.

To the Cuban dictatorship, Dr. Biscet is a "dangerous man." He is dangerous in the same way that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi were dangerous. He is a man of peace, a man of truth, and a man of faith. In captivity for most of the last eight years, he has continued to embody courage and dignity. His example is a rebuke to the tyrants and secret police of a regime whose day is passing.

Dr. Biscet is also a young man. God willing, he'll soon regain his freedom, as justice demands. He deserves to be reunited with his wife, Elsa, and all their family. And the land they call home deserves to be free. When that day arrives, the peoples of Cuba and the United States will stand together as free men and women. And the liberated country will honor a great man with a mighty heart, Oscar Elias Biscet. (Applause.)

When tyrannies fall, it's often the prisoners and exiles who are called forth to lead their people. We've seen this in our own time, in the lives of President Havel, and President Mandela, and Prime Minister Maliki, and in the Republic of Liberia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
All of her life, President Sirleaf has been a pioneer. The daughter of a school teacher in Monrovia, she crossed the ocean as a young woman and earned three degrees in the United States. She has been a business executive, a development expert, a public official -- and always a patriot. She loves Liberia and she loves all its people. After a cabal seized power and plunged that country into years of upheaval, and corruption, and civil war, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stood up for the democratic rights of her fellow citizens. She never wavered, even though the consequences were house arrest, foreign exile, death threats, and imprisonment.

When free elections returned to Liberia, the voters made history. They chose her to be the first woman ever elected to lead a nation on the continent of Africa. She was inaugurated last year, with Laura and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as proud witnesses. I remember asking Laura and Condi what kind of person I'd be dealing with. They said to expect a woman of depth and ability who know how to get things done. They were right. See, when the President comes to the Oval Office, she walks in with a to-do list. (Laughter.)

The President has the tough mind of a natural-born executive, and the gentle instincts of a mother. Not surprisingly, the Liberian people have given her two affectionate nicknames. They call her the "Iron Lady," and they call her "Ma." She's begun an age of reform in a country with deep historic ties to the United States. As she said to a joint meeting of our Congress, "Liberia will become a brilliant beacon, an example to Africa and to the world of what the love of liberty can achieve."

Madam President, America is proud to stand with Liberia. And today, America honors you as a woman of courage, and a giver of hope. Welcome back to the White House, my friend, and congratulations. (Applause.)

Seventeen years ago, the federal government established a research project with the ambitious goal of mapping the entire human genome. The genome is best described as the code of life -- the "3.1 billion-letter instruction book that conveys all kinds of information and all kinds of mystery about humankind." Those were the words of Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute -- and the man who led the federal project to full and thrilling success.

Many discoveries yet to be made, and many scientific triumphs yet to be achieved, will be directly traceable to the work of the human genome project. With genetic mapping, researchers know more than ever before about the hereditary influences behind cancer, and heart disease, and diabetes, and many other conditions. And that understanding holds the key to earlier detection of illness, individualized treatments, and even life-saving cures.

In scope and long-term potential, the human genome project has been compared to the Apollo project. And its leader, Dr. Collins, is a well-rounded man. Though he routinely works a 90-hour week, he is an accomplished singer and guitarist. (Laughter.) I know this because I once heard him at the National Prayer Breakfast. You see, when a man can get up and sing in front of 3,000 people at eight in the morning, there's something special in his DNA. (Laughter.)

From his days being home-schooled by his Mom on a farm in Virginia, Francis Collins has been relentless in the pursuit of knowledge. He said, "One of the strongest motivations of humankind is to seek answers to profound questions i and [to understand] what is both seen and unseen." He has brought his extraordinary gifts to bear on the technical questions of genetics, and on the ethical questions, as well. Deep scientific understanding can be used for good or ill -- and a lot turns on knowing the difference. Francis Collins is unafraid of the eternal questions, unswayed by fashion, and unwilling to overlook the distinction between right and wrong.

Dr. Collins has often noted that, "At the DNA level, we're all 99.9 percent the same. All of us." It's a reminder that the human genome project, with all the promise it holds for tomorrow, also confirms scientifically the timeless wisdom of the brotherhood of man. Americans are rightly proud this project succeeded in our own country. And we are proud of the wise and humane American scientist behind it -- Francis Collins. (Applause.)

Brotherhood is perhaps the greatest theme in the life and character of Dr. Benjamin Hooks. The man has always had what his friend Dr. King called the strength to love. As a civil rights activist, public servant, and minister of the Gospel, Dr. Hooks has extended the hand of fellowship throughout his years. It was not an always thing -- easy thing to do. But it was always the right thing to do.

Benjamin Hooks grew up in a segregated South, where economic advantages, and even common courtesies, were often denied to African Americans. In the Army during World War II, he guarded European prisoners of war held in the United States. When it was time to get something to eat, whites-only restaurants would serve the prisoners, but not Sergeant Hooks. After the war he wanted to study law, but not a single law school in Tennessee would admit a black man. So he went to DePaul University in Chicago, then came back home, determined to "break down that segregation, to end those days."

He became a lawyer, and in time was also an ordained Baptist minister. He joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and was an early crusader in that great movement. He also rose in the legal profession, becoming the first African American ever to serve as a judge of the Tennessee Criminal Court. He was named to the Federal Communications Commission by President Nixon.

The nation best remembers Benjamin Hooks as the leader of the NAACP. For 15 years, Dr. Hooks was a calm yet forceful voice for fairness, opportunity, and personal responsibility. He never tired or faltered in demanding that our nation live up to its founding ideals of liberty and equality. His testimony had special power -- for the words that he spoke, and for the example that he set as a man of decency and rectitude.

It's been a great journey, and he's traveled with a good and gracious woman at his side, Frances Hooks. They're a wonderful team. They've been married for 56 years.

Dr. Hooks once said, "You've got to believe that tomorrow somehow can be, and will be, better than today." Because he had that belief, because he held on to it, because he acted upon it, an old order has passed away. And all Americans can be grateful for the good works and the good life of Benjamin L. Hooks. (Applause.)

The story of an old order, and the glimmers of humanity that would one day overtake it, was unforgettably told in a book by Miss Harper Lee. Soon after its publication a reviewer said this: "A hundred pounds of sermons on tolerance, or an equal measure of invective deploring the lack of it, will weigh far less in the scale of enlightenment than a mere 18 ounces of a new fiction bearing the title To Kill a Mockingbird."

Given her legendary stature as a novelist, you may be surprised to learn that Harper Lee, early in her career, was an airline reservation clerk. (Laughter.) Fortunately for all of us, she didn't stick to writing itineraries. (Laughter.) Her beautiful book, with its grateful prose and memorable characters, became one of the biggest-selling novels of the 20th century.

Forty-six years after winning the Pulitzer Prize, To Kill a Mockingbird still touches and inspires every reader. We're moved by the story of a man falsely accused -- with old prejudice massed against him, and an old sense of honor that rises to his defense. We learn that courage can be a solitary business. As the lawyer Atticus Finch tells his daughter, "before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."

Years after To Kill a Mockingbird was put to film, the character of Atticus Finch was voted the greatest movie hero of all time. It won Gregory Peck the Oscar. He was said to believe the role "brought him closest to being the kind of man he aspired to be." The great actor counted Harper Lee among his good friends, and we're so pleased that Gregory Peck's wife, Veronique, is with us today. Thank you for coming.

One reason To Kill a Mockingbird succeeded is the wise and kind heart of the author, which comes through on every page. This daughter of Monroeville, Alabama had something to say about honor, and tolerance, and, most of all, love -- and it still resonates. Last year Harper Lee received an honorary doctorate at Notre Dame. As the degree was presented, the graduating class rose as one, held up copies of her book, and cheered for the author they love.
To Kill a Mockingbird has influenced the character of our country for the better. It's been a gift to the entire world. As a model of good writing and humane sensibility, this book will be read and studied forever. And so all of us are filled with admiration for a great American and a lovely lady named Harper Lee. (Applause.)

Bob Hyde is here on behalf of his Dad, the Honorable Henry J. Hyde, who was not able to be with us today. Congressman Hyde spent more than three decades as a towering figure on Capitol Hill. But he first made his name in Washington more than 60 years ago. He was on the Georgetown basketball team, and played in the NCAA Eastern championship game in 1943. After college and Navy service in World War II, he returned home to Illinois, and earned a law degree, and made his way into politics. This erudite, scholarly man has walked with kings and kept the common touch. He won 20 elections, and gave steady service to the people of Illinois for 40 years.

In the House, Congressman Hyde rose to the chairmanship of two committees, Judiciary and International Relations. And from the first day, he was a commanding presence, and he was a man of consequence. Colleagues were struck by his extraordinary intellect, his deep convictions, and eloquent voice. In committee and in the House chamber, the background noise would stop when Henry Hyde had the floor.

He used his persuasive powers for noble causes. He stood for a strong and purposeful America -- confident in freedom's advance, and firm in freedom's defense. He stood for limited, accountable government, and the equality of every person before the law. He was a gallant champion of the weak and forgotten, and a fearless defender of life in all its seasons.

Henry Hyde spoke of controversial matters with intellectual honesty and without rancor. He proved that a man can have firm convictions and be a favorite of Democrats and Republicans alike.

Henry likes quoting the adage, "Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver but the other is gold." To so many on Capitol Hill, Henry Hyde's friendship is gold. They're quick to say it's not the same Congress without him -- but that we're a better country because he was there. And colleagues will always admire and look up to the gentleman from Illinois, Henry J. Hyde. And, Bob, please tell your Dad a lot of us in Washington love him. (Applause.)

For nearly 30 years, the proceedings of the House of Representatives have been televised -- unfiltered, uninterrupted, unedited, and live. For this we can thank the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network, or C-SPAN. And for C-SPAN, we can thank a visionary American named Brian Lamb.

C-SPAN is not what you'd call exciting TV -- (laughter) -- though some of the call-in shows do have their moments. (Laughter.) It is, however, a tool that enlivens democracy, and informs and educates citizens of all ages -- at all hours.

C-SPAN channels fill 17,000 broadcast hours a year. But you can watch for years and never hear anyone say the name Brian Lamb. Even Brian never says it.

With his low-key manner, this native of Lafayette, Indiana likes to stick with substance. He's not there to provide commentary, or give much reaction either way. Yet vast numbers of Americans consider themselves fans of Brian Lamb. A writer from The Washington Post called it a "cult of non-personality." (Laughter.) The truth is, we've all seen him, and he's conducted some of the most fascinating interviews we have ever heard. As one C-SPAN watcher said, when you listen to Brian "You feel like he's just like you, only smarter." (Laughter.)
Brian Lamb has spent most of his life in broadcasting, in a career that has taken many turns. The first program he ever hosted, back in the Midwest, was called "Dance Date," -- a side we haven't seen much of. (Laughter.) Brian Lamb is a Navy veteran; a former social aide here at the White House. In fact, when Brian was here a few months ago to interview a historian in the Lincoln Bedroom, the maitre d' of the residential staff of the White House remembered him from those days.

The network Brian Lamb created has been called "scrupulously nonpartisan, [and] inherently patient." Committee hearings, and campaign events, and conferences, and rallies are shown from beginning to end, without editorial comment or interpretation. C-SPAN has no agenda, and only one assumption: that interested viewers are intelligent, and can make up their own minds about what they see and what they hear.

An informed citizenry has been the strength of America since the days of the New England town hall. C-SPAN has revived the town-hall spirit for a modern, continental nation. For his enormous achievement and his personal modesty; for his high standards, and his contribution to our democracy, America is grateful to Mr. Brian Lamb. (Applause.)

Now I call on the military aide to read the citations for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
MILITARY AIDE: Gary S. Becker. (Applause.) One of the world's great economists and premier intellectual innovators, Gary Becker has broadened the spectrum of economic life and social science. His pioneering analysis of the interaction between economics and such diverse topics as education, demography, and family organization has earned him worldwide respect and a Nobel Prize. His work has contributed to public policies and have helped improve the standard of living in developed and developing nations. The United States honors Gary Becker for his groundbreaking contributions to economics, which have helped us better comprehend the dynamic forces that drive our economy and shape our society. (Applause.)

Yan Valdes, accepting on behalf of his father, Oscar Elias Biscet. (Applause.) Oscar Elias Biscet has dedicated his life to advancing human rights and democracy in Cuba. A medical doctor, he has been persecuted for his peaceful calls for a free Cuba. Despite being imprisoned for his beliefs, he remains a powerful advocate for a Cuba in which the rights of all people are respected. Freedom-loving people everywhere are his brothers and sisters, and his sacrifice benefits all mankind. The United States stands with Oscar Elias Biscet in his heroic struggle against tyranny, salutes him for his courage, and honors him for his devotion to freedom and human rights. (Applause.)

Francis S. Collins. (Applause.) Francis Collins' work has revolutionized genetic research and deepened our understanding for human biology. Under his leadership, the Human Genome Project mapped and sequenced the full human genome. This monumental advance in scientific knowledge has begun to unlock some of the great mysteries of human life and has created the potential to develop treatments and cures for some of the most serious diseases. The United States honors Francis Collins for his efforts to decode human DNA and improve human health. (Applause.)

Benjamin L. Hooks. (Applause.) As a minister, lawyer, judge, and public servant, Benjamin Hooks has dedicated his life to equal justice under law. A pioneer of the Civil Rights movement and a leader of the NAACP, he fought to extend the full promise of America to all its citizens, and he battled injustice with civility, grace, and a generous spirit. His efforts have helped bring our nation closer to its founding ideals. The United States honors Benjamin Hooks: champion of equality, opportunity, and justice. (Applause.)

Robert Hyde, accepting on behalf of his father, Henry J. Hyde. (Applause.) A veteran, a lawyer, and a public servant, Henry Hyde has served his country with honor and dedication. During his 32-year career in the House of Representatives, he was a powerful defender of life, a leading advocate for a strong national defense, and an unwavering voice for liberty, democracy, and free enterprise around the world. A true gentleman of the House, he advanced his principles without rancor and earned the respect of friends and adversaries alike. The United States honors Henry Hyde for his distinguished record of service to America. (Applause.)

Brian P. Lamb. (Applause.) As the driving force behind the creation of C-SPAN, Brian Lamb has elevated our public debate and helped open up our government to citizens across the nation. His dedication to a transparent political system and to the free flow of ideas has enriched our civic life. He has helped empower Americans to know and understand their government and hold it accountable. The United States honors Brian Lamb for his efforts to ensure that his fellow citizens are well-informed participants in the American system of self-government through reflection and choice. (Applause.)

Harper Lee. (Applause.) Harper Lee's beautiful book is a meditation on family, human complexity, and some of the great themes of American life. At a critical moment in our history, To Kill a Mockingbird helped focus the nation on the turbulent struggle for equality. The novel became an instant American classic and earned her a Pulitzer Prize. Nearly half a century after its publication, her work continues to captivate new readers who encounter its compelling power for the first time. The United States honors Harper Lee for her outstanding contribution to the great literary tradition of America. (Applause.)

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. (Applause.) As a Liberian Cabinet Minister, United Nations administrator, and Liberia's President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been a force for democracy and opportunity. She has helped heal a country torn apart by over 14 years of conflict through perseverance, personal courage, and an unwavering commitment to build a more hopeful future for her homeland. The first woman elected president of an African nation, she has striven to improve the lives of people in her own country and across her continent. The United States honors Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for her dedication to freedom, democracy, and human dignity. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for coming. Laura and I now invite you to a reception here in the State Dining Room. I hope you've enjoyed this ceremony as much as I have. May God bless you all. Thank you. (Applause.)

END 10:37 A.M. EST


(Note: This article appeared in the November 5, 2007 edition of The Wall Street Journal on page A18)


Cuban physician Oscar Elías Biscet and seven others will be awarded the presidential medal of freedom by George W. Bush in a White House ceremony today. But Dr. Biscet will not be there to accept his honor in person. Today, like most days for the better part of the past eight years, he is locked away in a dungeon on Fidel Castro's island paradise.

Tales of totalitarian gulags may strike some readers as ancient history, something that happened during Europe's 20th-century experiments in fascism, communism and Nazism. Yet in Cuba, the gulag and its suffering have not ended. Dr. Biscet's medal serves to remind us of this fact. By raising the profile of his struggle for a free Cuba, the award also highlights what Castro's regime fears most. It is not the guns and tanks of some imperial invader, but rather the faith, courage and nonconformity of the country's own people.

Dr. Biscet, 46, is a renowned pacifist and devout Christian. He has said that he is inspired by the examples of Martin Luther King, Gandhi and the Dalai Lama. We know this and much more about his life thanks to the Coalition of Cuban-American Women, which says it documents all the facts it publishes about political prisoners through live testimonies from Cuba.

While practicing medicine in Cuban hospitals for more than a decade, Dr. Biscet became increasingly concerned about the government's abortion practices. In 1998, at a Havana hospital, he took the risk of engaging in a clandestine study on the administration of a drug called rivanol to abort advanced pregnancies. The drug was being widely used, particularly on girls as young as 12, who, having been forced to leave their parents and work in rural areas as part of their schooling, found themselves "in trouble."

The study concluded that rivanol resulted in viable fetuses being born alive. What often happened next horrified Dr. Biscet, who later wrote that, "the umbilical cord was cut and they were allowed to bleed to death or they were wrapped in paper and asphyxiated."

As a result of his vocal opposition to these abortion practices he lost his job, his family lost their home and Castro's goons were sent to beat him up. But the bullying didn't work. By now he was actively engaged in resistance against the regime and, as he has written, his conscience would not allow him to back down. Those familiar with Dr. Biscet's work say that he was instrumental in building -- at the grassroots level -- on the impact of Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba in January 1998. The regime took notice. Dr. Biscet became one of the few dissidents that Castro has ever attacked by name in a speech to the nation. As a proponent of Cuban democracy told me, "It proves that Biscet really got under Castro's skin."

From July 1998 until November 1999, Dr. Biscet was jailed 26 times. During those detentions, he was held for days in windowless cells or thrown in with populations of violent criminals and the mentally ill. In February 2000, he was tried and sentenced to three years in prison for holding a press conference to announce a peaceful march during the 1999 Ibero-American Summit in Havana. The backdrop at the press conference was two Cuban flags hung upside down to protest the state's violations of human rights. He was convicted for "dishonoring national symbols, public disorder and inciting delinquent behavior" and sent to a maximum security prison 450 miles east of Havana, making family visits difficult.

Cuba's political prison system is structured not only to punish dissent, but also to force the "rehabilitation" of the prisoner. Captives who give in, admit the error of their political ways and beg forgiveness sometimes can get out of jail. But Dr. Biscet is no such prisoner. While serving his three-year sentence, he increased his resistance, carrying out fasts and pushing for the release of political prisoners. The regime responded by putting him again in a squalid, solitary confinement cell or among dangerous inmates. He was denied visitors and medical treatment, and his Bible was confiscated.

In late October 2002, Dr. Biscet was released from prison only to be arrested 36 days later as he was preparing to meet with fellow Cuban human-rights advocates. In April 2003, he was convicted, as were 75 others who had been rounded up in the now-infamous March 2003 crackdown on dissent. He received a 25-year sentence for "serving as a mercenary to a foreign state." The Coalition of Cuban-American Women reports that, from November 2003-January 2004, he was held in "an underground dungeon with a common criminal and lost 40 pounds."
His time in solitary has been no less inhumane. Dr. Biscet has described his 3-foot-by-6-foot cell as having no windows or running water. It has a hole in the floor for a toilet and is infested with vermin. One of his confinement periods there lasted 42 days. Dr. Biscet says that "the Cuban government has tortured me during eight years, trying to drive me insane." Perhaps most painfully for the prisoner, his wife has been fired from her job as a nurse and is harassed by the state.

Dr. Biscet says that the regime has offered to let him go if he agrees to leave Cuba. He will not. In an April letter to his wife Elsa, he explained why: "My suffering is much, much less since I began to seek after my dream of being free, but not only for me personally. If I thought only of myself, you know that I would have been free a long time ago, and I would have been rid of these unsettling anxieties. But I want to see my friend's son, my adversary's son, or any citizen laughing happily from the satisfaction in their lives and enjoying a wealth of freedom because it is the only way human talent reaches its maximum splendor. . . ."

Reading those words, it is difficult to think of anyone more deserving of a medal honoring those who serve the cause of freedom.