An Afro-Cuban dissident who spent time in Fidel Castro’s gulags, Oscar Biscet is one of many people that represent the real Cuba, the people who will be hidden from sight as President Obama visits this week. While the president basks in the Cuban sun and in photo-ops with its heavy-handed dictator, the fate and freedom of political resisters like Biscet remains grim. Biscet is free now in technical terms, but in reality, he remains among a cohort of dissenters who still live in an invisible prison: a society still very much under the thumb of a totalitarian regime. And this week, Obama will provide that very regime with dangerously unwarranted legitimacy in the form of a diplomatic visit.
Biscet and I were convicted of the same crime: fidelity to our consciences. Biscet, a doctor, blew the whistle on corruption and abuse in Cuba’s health-care system. The government called it “disrespect.” My crime was in refusing to put a simple sign on my desk that said, “I’m with Fidel.” He and I and countless others who refused to go along with the Castro regime’s flagrant human rights violations were sentenced to decades in jail, where the government showed no restraint in trying to break us into submission.
And while both of us are technically free men now, Biscet and others like him living in Cuba go about their lives bearing the invisible shackles of a government that tolerates not a word of protest.
The entire island of Cuba lives garroted by these unseen chains. And despite glossy magazine ads inviting travelers to come for the mojitos and pristine beaches, and cheerful state visits from the likes of John Kerry and Obama, nothing has changed. Rather, as countless organizations have attested, human rights abuses have only escalated, and Cuba is in violation of basic stipulations in its diplomatic agreement with the United States by refusing to allow workers from the Red Cross and United Nations to come and lift the palm-studded hood and take a look. …