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Diplomacy and Cuba’s Human Rights Violations

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While serving as Lt. Governor of Florida, I had the opportunity to speak on the phone with Elsa Morejon, the wife of a political prisoner in Cuba, Dr. Oscar Biscet.

Friends of Elsa had asked me to contact her and encourage her while her husband lingered in a maximum-security prison run by the communist police state.

It was unclear whether my call would even go through. The Cuban government usually monitored Elsa’s calls and would routinely block calls from the United States. There were also times when government thugs would arrive at Elsa’s apartment to intimidate her. On more than one occasion she would walk out to her balcony and in a loud voice inform all of her neighbors that Castro regime agents were coming to shut her up.

In the mid-1980s after Biscet received his medical degree in Cuba, he began speaking out for human rights. He publicly called for freedom of speech for the citizens of Cuba. The Cuban government labeled him “dangerous”.

In August of 1999, Biscet was detained, beaten and tortured by Cuban police. He was released after five days. He was arrested a second time in 1999 and put in prison for three years for flying a Cuban flag upside down in protest of Cuba’s lack of freedom. He served the full sentence.

Only one month after being released in 2002, Biscet and others were arrested while discussing a petition drive and human rights. Biscet was sentenced to 25 years in prison for pushing for basic human rights, which the Castro regime described as “disorderly conduct and counter-revolutionary activities.”

It was while Biscet was serving this sentence that I spoke with his wife. It was clear that she was scared. The government had already taken away her ability to work as a nurse, and there was nothing to prevent the Castro regime from throwing her in prison too.

Her primary concern, however, was for her husband. Cubans are well aware of the conditions in the regime’s prisons. Elsa was not sure her husband could survive a 25-year sentence.

I tried my best to encourage her. I told her that she was not alone — that the people of our state and nation believed deeply in protecting basic human rights. I told her it was clear her husband had been improperly put in prison and that he should be released. Elsa knew I didn’t have any authority over the Cuban government, but I think just hearing words of encouragement was important to her.

Groups like “Freedom Now” began a push for Biscet’s release. The United Nations called for his release and in 2011 he was set free as part of an agreement between the Cuban Catholic Church and the Castro regime to improve conditions for political prisoners.

At no time, however, has the Cuban government admitted that Biscet was wrongly imprisoned. In fact, the Cuban government denies it has any “political prisoners” locked away.

During the time Biscet sat in prison, I often lamented the fact that the press in the United States ignored the plight of Cuban political prisoners. I could not understand why there were not daily stories about people being locked up only 90 miles from our shore for what we believe to be the natural right of freedom of speech. Where was the outrage?

The fact is the Castro regime is a brutal dictatorship that denies basic human rights to its citizens and forces most of its citizens to live in horrible poverty. When it comes to basic human rights, the Cuban police state is far from our equal.

Ours is a nation founded on the principle that all men and women are equal, and all people have certain natural rights like freedom of speech. The United States should demonstrate outrage over Castro’s comments and Cuba’s long history of human rights violations. We should be demanding that Cuba recognize basic human rights and hold free elections. We should be fighting to remove the shackles of totalitarianism from the people of Cuba. 

By Jeff Kottkamp for SouthFloridaReporter.com, Mar. 26, 2016

[The opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of Jeff Kottkamp and do not necessarily reflect those of SouthFloridaReporter. Jeff Kottkamp is president of Jeff Kottkamp, P.A. He was Florida’s 17th lieutenant governor from 2007 to 2011.]

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Jeff Kottkamp is president of Jeff Kottkamp, P.A. He was Florida’s 17th lieutenant governor and also served three terms in the Florida House of Representatives.  He currently practices law in Tallahassee.