Commentary

The Castros Are Dr. King’s Disciples?

During the Congressional Black Caucus’ guided tour of Cuba, after caucus members’ meeting with Fidel Castro, Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois joyously said, “This is the beginning of a new day! In my household [Fidel] is known as the ultimate survivor.”

Fidel himself, in a letter in the state-run Granma newspaper, saluted “this legislative group. The aura of Martin Luther King is accompanying them.”

To others of us who honor King, there is a barely surviving black Cuban disciple of King (and Mohandas Gandhi) whom the caucus visitors did not meet because he has been in a Castro brothers’ cage for many years and was off-limits to them. He is Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, and he is among those designated by Amnesty International as “prisoners of conscience” in Cuban gulags.

Another visiting caucus member, Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, was reported by the April 11 New York Post to have said, “We’ve been led to believe that the Cuban people are not free, and they are repressed by a vicious dictator, and I saw nothing to match what we’ve been told.” A government tour can lead you to believe anything.

The same article quoted Mr. Cleaver as saying of Cuba’s current president, Raul Castro: “He’s one of the most amazing human beings I’ve ever met.” The international human rights organizations - which have pleaded repeatedly with the Castro brothers to release the blind physician - also find Dr. Biscet amazing in a vitally different sense.

Before he was arrested during Fidel Castro’s 2003 mass crackdown on dissenters (an event infamously known as “Black Spring”) and sentenced to 25 years in prison, Dr. Biscet had been put away on occasion for planning to organize small groups in private homes to work nonviolently for democratic rights.

Since 2003, Dr. Biscet, often brutalized and denied medical care for digestive and other ailments, has occasionally been thrown into an unlit 3-foot-wide underground “punishment” cell with a toilet in the floor. His highest crime of caged disobedience against the state was to protest vicious treatment of fellow prisoners from his cell. Yet, in a message slipped out, he maintains: “My conscience and spirit are well.”

In a cruel irony, the caucus visitors laying flowers at the King memorial appear utterly unaware of this inspiration to many silenced Cubans in Castroland, though Dr. Biscet has been internationally covered by reporters, including myself. Nor were these visiting admirers of Fidel and Raul Castro seemingly aware that a biography of King - seized during the 2003 crackdown raids on independent libraries - was, among other subversive books, ordered burned by Castro judges in one-day trials.

Another Cuban follower of King is Iris Garcia, founder of the Rosa Parks Women’s Civil Rights Movement. She and her husband, Afro-Cuban dissenter Jose Luis Garcia Perez, are on a hunger strike trying to bring justice to a family member in a Castro cage.

Mr. Garcia, himself often assaulted for disloyalty, told The Washington Post on April 9: “The authorities in my country have never tolerated that a black person [could dare to] oppose the regime.” As I and others have reported, this racism in Cuba is one of the forbidden topics among American idolaters of Fidel Castro.

New Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, who has made 10 reporting trips to Cuba, wrote April 14 that the Congressional Black Caucus delegation was either naive or disingenuous “not to notice … [or] acknowledge - that Cuba is hardly the paradise of racial harmony and equality it pretends to be.”

If these caucus members - so lauded by Fidel Castro for being accompanied by King’s “aura” - had asked him and Raul Castro for permission to look around Cuba on their own, they would have heard considerable evidence from Afro-Cubans about their lower status in Michael Moore’s paradise.

However, Mr. Robinson adds, “maybe they were too busy looking into Fidel’s eyes.”

As for President Obama’s changes of policy regarding Cuba, it is indeed long past time to remove travel restrictions to that land by Cubans and Cuban-Americans in this country. Keeping families apart so long has been of value to the Castros’ national security rationale for internal repression against “plots” by American enemies - along with the U.S. embargo, which Mr. Obama also should end soon.

But when Dan Restrepo - our National Security Council’s senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs - speaks (as reported in the April 14 New York Times) of Mr. Obama’s moves “to extend a hand to the Cuban people [so that they can] work on the kind of grass-roots democracy that is necessary to move Cuba to a better future,” he omits the continuing stocking of the Castro gulags with pro-democracy “criminals.”

In the April 7 Miami Herald, Myriam Marquez reminded the caucus visitors of the 300-plus prisoners of conscience and “the hundreds of dissidents working from their homes under the watch of a totalitarian regime.”

Raul Castro, following the black caucus visit and Mr. Obama’s policy changes, said he is willing to talk with Mr. Obama on “anything,” including human rights and prisons. Well, how about including Dr. Biscet in the conversation once he’s released? And Raul, if Fidel agrees, isn’t it time finally to let the International Committee of the Red Cross into your prisons?

In 2007, former President George W. Bush gave Dr. Biscet the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Mr. Obama, why not invite Dr. Biscet to the White House?

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.