Cuban dissident Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet, recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, was taken into custody by police and state security agents Wednesday morning in Havana and briefly detained.
Miami-based Inspire America Foundation, a super PAC that supports pro-democracy leaders and policies in Cuba and the Americas, said Biscet, a former political prisoner, was picked up outside his Havana home by four police operatives and two state security agents and put into a patrol car.
By Wednesday afternoon, he was released with a warning about his activities, said Inspire America founder Marcell Felipe, who spoke with Biscet via telephone.
“While in custody he was told to give up his work and that he was getting old and that he was being watched and would go to prison if he continued,” said Felipe.
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Three other dissidents — Eduardo Quintana Suárez, José Omar Lorenzo Pimienta, and Yoan Álvares — also were detained.
Inspire America said they had planned to meet in a Havana park to distribute a newsletter celebrating the 4th anniversary of the Emilia Project, a campaign to gather signatures on a document that asks for a new democratic and free parliament to be created to replace Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power and demands that a new constitution be drafted on the principles of democracy and freedom.
Biscet, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2007, is one of the directors of the Emilia Project and was arrested in 2002 as part of the “Black Spring” roundup of dissidents. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison but was released in 2011.
The independent Cuban news service 14yMedio also reported that Karina Gálvez, an economist and member of the editorial board of the magazine Convivencia, was detained Wednesday morning and taken to state security headquarters in Pinar del Río. Her home was reportedly searched for nearly four hours.
During his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Rex Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, said that since the Obama administration’s opening toward Cuba and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Cuba hasn’t done enough to defend human rights.
“We we must adhere to standards of accountability,” said the former Exxon Mobil chief executive. “Our recent engagement with the government of Cuba was not accompanied by any significant concessions on human rights.
“We have not held them accountable for their conduct,” he said. “Their leaders received much, while their people received little. That serves neither the interest of Cubans or Americans.”