The Orange Revolution’s Message


After the fraudulent November 2004 election in Ukraine, a mass democratic protest electrified the world and, in a second election, made Viktor Yushchenko—still recovering from being poisoned, allegedly after a secret dinner with the Ukrainian secret police—president of an independent Ukraine. Recently, Yushchenko said that the Orange Revolution—as it came to be called (see Andrew Wilson’s Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, Yale University Press)—”proved that individual yearnings for freedom are universal and that abuse of public trust can be overcome anywhere.”

From November 29 to December 3, 2005, Congressman Linco ln Diaz-Balart (Republican of Florida) visited Ukraine to—as he says—”begin the process through which our south Florida community will offer assistance to the victims of the nuclear tragedy of Chernobyl in 1986 and other effects of the ecological destruction caused by the communists during their decades in power.”

Meeting with President Yushchenko, the congressman gave him a message from a Cuban physician, Oscar Elías Biscet (see my column “Castro’s Black Prisoner,” June 15–21, 2005). Diaz-Balart told Yushchenko:

“This Cuban physician was not able to give me his message personally because he is a political prisoner who at this moment suffers in solitary confinement in a cold, damp underground dungeon simply for believing in democracy and human rights. I received his message from his wife, Ms. Elsa Morejón. Dr. Biscet sends you and all of your colleagues of the Orange Revolution, for freedom and democracy in Ukraine, a message of friendship and solidarity.

He also expresses his deep gratitude, on behalf of all the political prisoners in Cuba, for your vote and your support at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva for human rights in Cuba.”

As Diaz-Balart gave this message to Yushchenko, Sylvia Iriondo, head of the Cuban American human rights group Mothers and Women Against Repression, presented the president of Ukraine with a photograph of Biscet and three other Cuban political prisoners (René Gómez Manzano, Jorge Luis García Pérez, and Normando Hernández).

“Thank you,” said the leader of the Orange Revolution. “I will never forget this message, this gesture of friendship. I will never forget the Cuban political prisoners.”

Meanwhile, as Castro’s mounting crimes against Cubans’ yearnings for freedom are seldom reported in the American media—except for Meghan Clyne in The New York Sun and Mary Anastasia O’Grady in The Wall Street Journal—Human Rights First (formerly the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights) reported on December 7:

“Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet is seriously ill and suffering from chronic gastritis and hypertension. The conditions in which he is serving his 25-year prison term—imposed after an unfair trial in 2003 for his nonviolent advocacy of human rights—are deteriorating.

Throughout much of his time in prison, Dr. Biscet has been held in substandard punishment cells, often in solitary confinement or with violent criminals. For long periods of time, he has been deprived of any outside communication, visits or vital medications sent by his family. He is currently being held in a windowless cell which lacks adequate water and from which he is infrequently taken outside.”

Dr. Biscet, a disciple of Martin Luther King Jr., has been especially tormented by Fidel Castro—who knows who this prisoner is and where he is—because Biscet refuses to wear the usual prison uniform. He has also protested the vicious treatment of other prisoners.

Castro, while not sensitive to the sufferings of his prisoners of conscience (as Amnesty International designated them), is, however, sensitive to criticism of his brutality from abroad, especially from his supporters in the European Union. Accordingly, 15 severely ill prisoners have been released on medical parole after international protests on their behalf.

Therefore, Human Rights First—which calls for Castro “to unconditionally release all those imprisoned on the basis of the peaceful expression of their beliefs and for their nonviolent promotion of human rights and democracy”—urges you to send a message on behalf of Biscet to:

Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz

Presidente de los Consejos de

Estados y de Ministros

La Habana, Cuba.

This is an excerpt from the sample letter (which you can get from Human Rights First, 333 Seventh Avenue, 13th floor, New York, NY 10001, Attention: Elena Steiger):

“The Cuban government is obligated by the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders—
a document that Cuba was active in drafting [emphasis added]—to protect the rights of all individuals to freely share information about human rights and advance fundamental freedoms. . . . I strongly urge the Cuban government to unconditionally release Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet. . . . Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.”

Meanwhile, as reported in the December 17 issue of The Economist, “this year, at the urging of Spain’s Socialist government, the European Union dropped the mild diplomatic sanctions it slapped on Cuba after the [2003] roundup of dissidents.

“An Ibero-American summit in Spain condemned the American embargo [on Cuba] but said nothing about Cuba’s lack of political freedom.” (Emphasis added.)

I too oppose the American embargo because it provides Castro a rationale for oppressing dissenters as he uses the U.S.’s hostility toward him. And I also oppose the cold and cruel Bush administration restrictions on Cubans here visiting their families in Cuba.

You can also say this, if you agree, in your letters to Castro while you remind him that you and many others around the world—socialists, libertarian conservatives, and plain believers in human decency—ask the presidente to act in the very name and spirit of human decency to release Biscet and the other nonviolent prisoners of conscience. Thereby we can all join Viktor Yushchenko in his message to Fidel Castro.