Cuban dissident and former political prisoner Oscar Elias Biscet on Wednesday called for a new mass movement that will demand democracy and human rights “in public places, in a non-violent political defiance” of the government.
Flanked by other dissidents at a Havana news conference, Biscet said the “Project Emilia” is starting as a drive to gather signatures for a declaration that rejects all parts of the communist-run government as “illegitimate.”
The second phase, he added, will be to present the declaration and signatures before international bodies such as the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands and the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States.
“But the fundamental work is here in Cuba, to try to create a grand civic mass movement” that will push for democracy and human rights “in public places, in a non-violent political defiance of the government,” he told El Nuevo Herald by telephone from Havana.
Eventually, the movement may become a political party, added Biscet, 51, a physician and founder of the Lawton Foundation for human rights and viewed as one of the most respected and conservative critics of the Fidel and Raúl Castro governments.
Dissidents have launched several similar campaigns in recent decades. Some were crushed by the government and others simply faded away for lack of popular support.
Biscet and his wife, Elsa Morejón, a nurse, were fired from their jobs in the public health system for their activism and he has served 11 years in prison — the first three for dishonoring a national symbol by flying the Cuban flag upside down, among other charges.
He was freed in late 2002, was arrested again one month later and was tried as part of a 2003 crackdown on dissent, known as Cuba’s Black Spring, that sentenced 75 peaceful opposition activists to up to 28 years in prison for “counterrevolutionary activities.”
Amnesty International declared him a “prisoner of conscience” in 1999 and President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.
Biscet was freed in March of 2011 as part of talks between Raúl Castro and the Catholic Church that led to the release of the last of the 2003 prisoners still in jail. Most went directly into exile in Spain, but Biscet and about a dozen others stayed in Cuba.
Biscet said “Project Emilia” was named in honor of Emilia Teurbe Tolón, who sewed the first Cuban flag in 1849.
“We have seen, through the passing of more years than we care to remember, how the communist regime has not ceded one atom of freedom and has resisted, rigidly and arbitrarily, any change that would guarantee a dignified life to our people,” the declaration noted.
“We have no other alternative … than non-violent political defiance to realize the freedom of our people,” it added.
Biscet identified the seven other initial signers of the declaration as Cubans who have been active in dissident and human rights groups for some years. They are not well known to other dissidents or outside the island.
They were: Carlos Manuel Pupo Rodriguez and Agustin Figueroa Galindo of the Free Cuba Union Party: Jorge Omar Lorenzo Pimienta of the National Council for Human Rights in Cuba; Hugo Damian Prieto Blanco of the Hard Line and Boycott Orlando Zapata Tamayo; Angel Pablo Polanco Torrejon and Gabriel Gordillo Garcia of the Committee for Change; and Jose Diaz Silva of the Opposition Movement for a New Republic.