DEAR Mr. Robinson and Reverend Sharpton,
November 3 was the second year that Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet has been a prisoner of conscience in Communist Cuba—one of the seven regimes classified by the U.S. State Department as a sponsor of terrorism and the closest sponsor of terrorism to America. Dr. Biscet is a father, a husband, a Christian, a physician, and an Afro-Cuban.
Frederick Douglass observed in 1860: "Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one's thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down." Douglass was on the mark in 1860, and his words are no less true today.
In Communist Cuba, the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist for decades. It is easy to ascertain this terrible reality. "Disrespect," "enemy propaganda," "illicit association," "insult to the symbols of the homeland," and other expressions of conscience are criminal in Cuba. (Dr. Biscet was arrested for "insult to the symbols of the homeland" when he inverted a flag to symbolize distress.) Cuba’s current "constitution" prohibits non-socialist speech.
This systematic repression of human rights mirrors the former Soviet Union’s repression, where "participation in anti-Soviet organizations" and "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda" were crimes. Just as terrorism underpinned Soviet totalitarianism, so it does totalitarianism in Cuba. A "law" against "disrespect" or "illicit association" is a flagrant attempt to terrorize a population into docility. It is no mystery why the late Cuban novelist Reinaldo Arenas wrote in Before Night Falls that "inside Cuba you exist under absolute terror."
But Cubans are not only muzzled by the present regime.
Douglass affirmed in 1852, "It is a fundamental truth that every man is the rightful owner of his own body." The fundamental lie of slavery is that every man is not the rightful owner of his own body, that a monstrously arrogant person may reduce human beings to chattel and hold a population in captivity.
In Cuba, a master class led by Fidel Castro enslaves over 11 million human beings. We know this because a Cuban who wishes to leave the island cannot do so without an exit pass and payment of exit fees. Unauthorized exit is a crime, salida ilegal (illegal exit).
As you know, these obscenities accompanied American slavery as well. For instance, the 1852 Alabama slave code stated that "No slave must go beyond the limits of the plantation on which he resides, without a pass." Accordingly, a new freeman in 1865 summarized his condition, "All I know, it don't take no passes now to go around nowhere."
Both of you have consorted with Fidel Castro:
- In 1998’s Defending the Spirit, Mr. Robinson, you assert that Afro-Cubans "are demonstrably better off under Castro than they were under the Batista dictatorship." In The Debt, you recount a 1999 meeting with Castro where you and your delegation laughed with him. Your recollections of Castro during that meeting are rhapsodic, e.g.: "His eyes shone with intelligent intensity," "He tugs on a beard that is ungovernable," and "Though he was not a young seventy-two, the failing body gave glimpse through the eyes to an inferno of intellect and determination."
- Reverend Sharpton, you appeared on The Chris Rock Show soon after last year’s presidential election. You apprised its host with pride during the appearance: "I was this week in Jamaica and Cuba. Monday I had lunch with Fidel Castro. That’s part of being Al Sharpton: You start the week with Fidel, you end the week with Chris Rock. That only happens to me." (Your lunch with Castro occurred during the same month that marked Dr. Biscet’s first year as a prisoner of conscience.)
Mr. Robinson, I doubt that Dr. Biscet, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, Cecilio Monteagudo Sánchez, and Cuba’s other black prisoners of conscience would concur with your assessment of the totalitarian regime vis-à-vis Afro-Cuban quality of life. It would be interesting, for instance, to hear Enrique Patterson’s reaction to your claim. (Patterson is a black Cuban intellectual in exile. A former professor at the University of Havana and co-founder of the dissident Democratic Socialist Current, Patterson observes, "[O]ne cannot lose sight of the fact that the Cuba of today is worse than the Cuba before the revolution in terms of the standard of living, the economy, and human rights.") Suffice it to say there is no Afro-Cuban exemption from "illegal exit," "disrespect," and "illicit association."
Mr. Sharpton, you boasted of lunching with a man who has perpetrated terrorism internally and promoted it abroad for decades, and you did this in an era where such information is conspicuously accessible.
November 3 marked the 24th month that Dr. Biscet has been a prisoner of conscience for human rights advocacy in the non-violent tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Natan Sharansky. On that day, I began a 24-day fast to protest Fidel Castro’s terrorist regime and its crimes against this heroic man. My demands to Castro are simple:
- Renounce the enslavement of Dr. Biscet and his countrymen.
- Renounce terrorism against the Cuban people.
- Renounce complicity with terrorist regimes.
You have both had the will to embrace Fidel Castro. Do you have the will to embrace Dr. Biscet? Do you have the will to join me in demanding Cuba’s emancipation from terrorism? Do you have the will to join me in demanding an end to Fidel Castro’s sponsorship of terrorism?