My friend Oscar should be preparing to celebrate Christmas with his family, but right now he’s in jail.
On Monday, December 2, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, who was a prisoner of conscience in Cuba from November 3, 1999 until this October 31. We discussed matters including the subjugation of black Cubans, Fidel Castro’s anti-Semitic policies, and the biblical roots of civil disobedience.
That Friday evening, Oscar and approximately 12 Cubans went to a home in Havana to discuss human rights. This was part of Oscar’s effort to establish "Friends of Human Rights" clubs throughout Cuba.
Police barred them from the home. To protest this violation of free association, Oscar and his peers sat on the street and declared, "Long live human rights" and "Freedom for political prisoners"
Then the police arrested them.
Most of those arrested have been released, but not Oscar. According to prosecutor José Ángel Aguilera, he will be charged with "disturbance of public order."
"I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth," Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his 1963 "Letter from Birmingham Jail." He contrasted "a negative peace which is the absence of tension" with "a positive peace which is the presence of justice."
Like Oscar, King was arrested numerous times on charges like "public disorder" because he took nonviolent direct action against an oppressive system.
Oscar is also a practitioner of constructive tension; he highlights nearly 44 years of totalitarian injustice under Castro and promotes nonviolent action to rectify it. Just as King’s indignation terrified Jim Crow elites, Oscar’s terrifies Cuba’s predominantly white master class. (If Cuba’s elite functionaries reflected its demography, over 60% would be people of color.)
I wasn’t surprised when I learned of Oscar’s arrest; it was never a question of if but when. Had it been so inclined, the regime could have arrested Oscar four days after his release when he said, "So long as the dictatorship of communist Castro exists, we Cubans cannot live in liberty and democracy, and violations of human rights will continue."
The day after Oscar’s arrest was the anniversary of Antonio Maceo’s death in 1896 during Cuba’s Second War of Independence. This black patriot once said, "Liberty is not begged for; it is conquered."
Oscar will never beg for his country’s birthright.
During his recent visit to Cuba, NAACP president Kweisi Mfume met for two hours with a delegation of human rights activists including Oscar. The NAACP has been notified of Oscar’s arrest, and what has Mfume said? Nothing.
And forget about solidarity from black celebrity "civil rights activists" like Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover; they were in Cuba last week for the Havana Film Festival. Belafonte asserted that Cuba has the "highest movie-making standards" and "censorship" is at a peak in America—interesting words to say in a regime that forbids independent cinema and media, where it’s a crime to satirize Castro and his functionaries.
At the end of our conversation, I conveyed to Oscar these words from the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled." Behind bars, my friend’s dream of justice endures.