Viva Biscet! A true revolutionary.
By Peter Kirsanow
Nearly 40 years after his death, Ernesto "Che" Guevara is in the news
again. He's the subject of a new film entitled The Motorcycle Diaries
about his coming of age during a trek through South America. The movie
was screened at the Sundance Film Festival, where it reportedly received
several standing ovations. Among the luminaries in attendance was former
Vice President Al Gore.
Che Guevara remains an icon throughout much of America, and, indeed, the
world. His surname is superfluous. Everyone knows Che! His image adorns
college dormitories and bookstores; Che t-shirts are ubiquitous at every
antiwar march and anti-globalization protest. New books about the life
of the "revolutionary" are published every year.
Throughout much of the '60s and '70s, Che was the archetype of rebellion
against repressive authority. The hagiology portrays him as a selfless
physician born to wealth, who heroically spurned the corrupt oligarchy
that supported his bourgeois lifestyle, and who then became a guerilla
fighting for the downtrodden. Scores of plays and seminars are a
testament to the esteem in which he is held by bien pensants. All of
this for a delusional, egocentric thug who delighted in summarily
executing anyone he deemed an "enemy of the revolution." But at least he
In contrast, only a handful of Americans have ever heard of Dr. Oscar
Elias Biscet. Like Che, Biscet is a physician. He's at least as
photogenic. And his life story is arguably more compelling and
inarguably more honorable. But don't expect posters of Biscet to grace
campus bookstores. There probably won't be any movies about him, and
definitely none attended by the glitterati. No college symposia will be
dedicated to Biscet's political philosophy.
Biscet's story is a bit inconvenient for the sophisticates who embrace
the romantic vision of Castro's valiant struggle on behalf of
third-world victims of capitalist exploitation. The journalists,
entertainers, left-leaning politicians, and civil-rights activists who
are treated by Castro to guided tours of the Cuban "paradise" never hear
of Biscet, or of the thousands like him who are brutalized in Castro's
prisons for having the audacity to desire freedom of speech, assembly,
and religion; the right to own property or perhaps start a business; the
right to be free from the constant threat of arbitrary persecution — in
short, for wanting freedom from the tyranny Che helped create.
Dr. Biscet is serving a 25-year sentence for supporting human rights by
peacefully staging a hunger strike in his home. He's a principal of the
Varela Project, an initiative to secure basic human rights for the Cuban
This is Biscet's second stint in prison. He was initially released on
October 31, 2002, after having served three years for the crime of
"disrespect," only to be arrested again barely a month later.
Reliable information on Biscet's status is difficult to obtain. Castro
isn't eager to publicize his dungeons. What details emerge come
primarily from Biscet's wife, other prisoners, and his brief yet
powerful letters smuggled from prison, the combined texts of which evoke
Rev. Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," though with
descriptions of appalling degradation and brutality.
Dr. Biscet has seen his wife twice in the last ten months. Her most
recent visit, on December 30, lasted only 15 minutes.
Biscet's physical condition is in dangerous decline. He's rail thin,
having lost an estimated 40 pounds. He suffers from severe hypertension.
In addition to being malnourished, he has lost several teeth during his
Biscet's prison cell is the stuff of a Victor Hugo nightmare; tiny,
filthy, and shared with an almost uncontrollably violent cellmate. He
has no windows and hasn't seen sunlight in weeks. He's afforded no
medicines or toiletries. Other than the two visits from his wife, he's
permitted no visitors, correspondence, or other reading materials.
Nonetheless, he inspires others with his repeated acts of defiance
against his persecutors.
The probability that Biscet will survive his sentence isn't great. He
has but two avenues of hope.
The first is liberation after Castro's death. Speculation about Castro's
imminent demise swirled in the last two weeks after the visiting mayor
of Bogota, Luis Eduardo Garzon, described Castro as appearing gravely
ill. But while Castro is 77 years old and life-insurance agents aren't
exactly rushing to sell him a policy, semiannual reports of Castro on
his deathbed have been coming out of Cuba for more than 20 years.
Moreover, there's no guarantee Cuba will turn into a democratic republic
immediately upon Castro's death.
The other hope is perhaps even more farfetched — that widespread
publicity of Biscet's plight and that of other political prisoners will
shame the dictator into releasing him. Castro is not known for yielding
to this kind of pressure, although it's conceivable that after a period
of protest Biscet could be released without fanfare.
Regardless, the unfortunate reality is that Dr. Biscet will never
receive the kind of coverage that would cause Castro even the slightest
discomfort. The media outlets with the capacity to generate the
requisite publicity seem more intent on focusing on the Bush
administration's purported lack of "balance" and "nuance" toward
Castro's regime. And human-rights activists seem more occupied with the
plight of enemy combatants who daily profess a desire to obliterate
anything and everything American (and whose own accommodations on the
Caribbean island are, in comparison to Biscet's, opulent) than with a
humble but charismatic doctor who has professed nothing but admiration
for American democracy.
Consequently, the odds are that a true champion for liberty will spend
his remaining days wasting away in unspeakable privation and pain. In
the meantime, the memory of Castro's homicidal lieutenant will be
cheered by the elite for years to come. After all, he looked really cool
in a beret.
— Peter Kirsanow is a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.