'It's a regime that has always been anti-Semitic, anti-Israel,
Castro still Israel's enemy, prominent Cuban dissident warns on rare visit
Undeterred by torture and prison, Oscar Biscet draws attention to the
totalitarian nature of the regime in Havana. I may get killed when I
return but I must continue my fight, he saysBY RAPHAEL AHREN August 10,
2016, 3:28 am 5
Oscar Biscet, a well-known human rights activist from Havana, spent over
a decade in Cuban prisons for a host of alleged crimes: dishonoring
national symbols, public disorder, inciting delinquent behavior, and,
ultimately, crimes against state security.
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"They put me in a very tiny cell full of tuberculosis patients," he
recalled last week. In another case of the perverse treatment he
received for publicly opposing the regime, the prison guards threw him
into a small cell with mental patients who had not been given their
"They are more subtle than Hitler and Stalin, but they have the same
mechanisms," he said of the leaders of his home country.
While he witnessed fellow inmates being electrocuted and enduring
physical abuse, Biscet was only subjected to what he calls "white
torture," which includes prolonged solitary confinement, extended
periods of total silence followed by booming music, and other
psychological abuse. "They constantly reminded me that they could do
with me whatever they wanted at any given time."
On Monday, Biscet, who was released from prison five years ago but until
now had not been allowed to leave the country, wrapped up his first-ever
trip to Israel. In Jerusalem he met with former and current government
officials, including the Mossad's former station chief in Tehran, the
Foreign Ministry diplomat in charge of Central America, and MK Avi
Dichter, a former Shin Bet chief and current chair of the Knesset
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
A jovial father of two and grandfather of three, Biscet, who is
currently in Florida, intends to return to Cuba on Sunday — despite a
tangible danger. He could be incarcerated again, or worse. "Of course I
am afraid. They could kill me. I know I am taking a risk. But I have to
continue fighting for freedom," he said in Spanish, speaking through a
The main purpose of his trip — for which he left his home country for
the first time in his life — was to warn the world, and particularly
Israel, of the regime in Havana. Despite the recent rapprochement with
the United States, Cuba is still a cruel, totalitarian regime that
systematically violates civil rights and brutally suppresses political
opposition, he said. And while he was released from prison, no one
should think that the Communist island nation has become, or is about to
become, a democracy, he posited.
"The fact that I'm here is not because there are any changes or
liberties in Cuba," he told The Times of Israel in a Jerusalem cafe,
referring to the fact that he was allowed to leave the country despite
his criticism of the regime. "We're here because the Cuban government is
interested in presenting a new image, but not because there are any real
changes in the Cuban government."
In December 2014, the United States reestablished diplomatic relations
with Havana, declaring an end to decades of enmity. "Isolation has not
worked," US President Barack Obama said at the time, announcing a "new
approach." In March, Obama became the first American leader to visit the
island since 1928.
"This new American policy of a diplomatic engagement with Cuba is a
mistake," said Jose Azel, a senior research associate at the University
of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, who
accompanied Biscet to Israel. "Because it's a policy that embraces an
oppressor and ignores the oppressed. It's a policy that chooses to side
with the bad guys and not with those who fight for democracy."
Contrary to what many people believe, Cuba has not changed for the
better since Fidel Castro handed the scepter to his brother Raul a
decade ago, he argued. "There is absolutely no movement toward democracy
or any political change," Azel asserted.
The US government's argument that a diplomatic opening and some sort of
economic engagement will lead to democratization at some point in the
future is fallacious, Azel said. China and Vietnam opened their markets
to the West decades ago, and today are certainly wealthier because of
it, he said. "That speaks well of capitalism — but they have not
advanced one step toward political freedom. To suggest that economic
changes lead to political freedom is demonstrably false."
It is true that economic sanctions imposed by the US over decades have
failed to change the dictatorial nature of the regime, Azel allowed. But
there are 190 nations in the world that always had diplomatic and
economic ties with Cuba, and that also did not lead to democratization,
he argued. "So if you cite to me one example of a policy failure, I will
reply that there 190 example of policy failures. Both policies have failed."
Biscet, a physician by profession, began his career as a dissident in
the mid-1980s by staging a pro-life demonstration to protest what he
calls the Cuban government's system of "abusive abortions." Since then
he has become a celebrated activist. In 1997, George W. Bush awarded him
the Presidential Medal of Freedom, calling him a "a champion in the
fight against tyranny and oppression." A decade and a half later, in
2011, the rock band U2, during a concert in Miami, lauded Biscet for his
courageous fight. "Hold him your thoughts, hold him in your prayers,"
singer Bono told the audience.
This week, he made the trip to the Jewish state to warn Israelis not to
let their guard down. "Castro is Israel's number one enemy," he said.
The regime has one of the world's best intelligence services and sells
information to countries and organizations that seek the Jewish state's
destruction, and has also hosted Hamas and Hezbollah training camps, he
"I am worried about Israel [and its relation to Cuba] because it's the
only example of democracy and liberty and freedom of religion in the
Middle East. And Cuba is a dictatorship that violates all those basic
rights," Biscet said. "As Israelis travel to Cuba and enjoy the
beautiful landscapes and beautiful beaches, they perhaps don't realize
that this dictatorship is also undermining the State of Israel wherever
Havana unilaterally cut ties with Jerusalem some 40 years ago and has
been a fierce critic of Israeli policies ever since. For decades, Israel
and the US were the only countries supporting an economic embargo of the
nation. Given Jerusalem's close ties with Washington, Israel was widely
expected to follow Obama's course of detente with Cuba. "We have no
conflict with Cuba; the disconnect between our countries is unnatural,"
a diplomatic official in Jerusalem told The Times of Israel last year.
Biscet and Azel, the University of Miami scholar, are not telling Israel
not to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba (something Jerusalem
would be interested in, though Havana seems currently disinclined),
since all other countries in the world already have such ties. However,
they want Israelis to be fully aware of Havana's hostile stance and its
destructive influence the world.
"If you want to sleep with the enemy, go right ahead. But understand
that you're sleeping with the enemy. Cuba is still absolutely Israel's
enemy," Azel said.
"It's a regime that has always been anti-Semitic, anti-Israel,
pro-Palestinian," he said. "It's a regime that has a very close alliance
with Iran and a regime that represent dangers for the national security
of the United States and also for Israel."
Besides his anti-Castro advocacy, Biscet, a devout Christian and staunch
supporter of the Jewish people's right to settle in their ancient
homeland, also made some time for sightseeing. He was particularly
looking forward to sticking a note into the Western Wall. What was he
going to wish for? Biscet replied with a chuckle, as if the answer was
obvious. He then said, "For freedom for Cuba and for my family."
Source: Castro still Israel's enemy, prominent Cuban dissident warns on
rare visit | The Times of Israel -