In 2007, President George W. Bush awarded the Medal of Freedom in absentia to the Cuban human rights and democracy activist Oscar Elias Biscet. This week, he was able to place the award on Biscet’s shoulders.
The 2007 citation read as follows:
Oscar Elias Biscet has dedicated his life to advancing human rights and democracy in Cuba. A medical doctor, he has been persecuted for his peaceful calls for a free Cuba. A former prisoner of conscience, he remains a powerful advocate for a Cuba in which the rights of all people are respected. Freedom-loving people everywhere are his brothers and sisters, and his sacrifices benefit all mankind. The United States stands with Oscar Elias Biscet in his heroic struggle against tyranny, salutes him for his courage, and honors him for his devotion to freedom and human rights.
Biscet could not receive the award because he was in one of Castro’s prisons. But this week he was able to travel to Dallas, where former President Bush gave him the award.
Here’s some of what Bush said:
Laura and I welcome you, we thank you. This is an extraordinary event, one that should lift the soul of every American.
In 2007, I awarded the Medal of Freedom to Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet. I did so because of his courage and devotion to freedom. He couldn’t be with us then because he was in a prison cell, locked away for daring to criticize Cuba’s communist regime and for demanding respect for the fundamental rights of the Cuban people. For the past several years, Oscar has entrusted his Medal of Freedom to the Bush Institute’s Freedom Collection....
There’s still a long road ahead before Cuba’s freedom is realized, but at long last, Oscar has finally been released from prison and allowed to leave the island. So, we welcome you, Oscar. We’ve been waiting for you and we are thrilled you’re here.
I want to read a few words from my speech in the East Room when we announced your Medal of Freedom. Here is part of what I said:
"Oscar Biscet is a healer -- known to 11 million Cubans as a physician, a community organizer, and an advocate for human rights. For decades, he has told the world what he has seen in Cuba: the arrogance of a one-party state; the suppression of political dissent; the coercion of expectant mothers. For speaking the truth Dr. Biscet has endured repeated harassment, beatings, and detentions. The international community agrees that Dr. Biscet’s imprisonment is unjust, yet the regime has refused every call for his release.
"To the Cuban dictatorship, Dr. Biscet is a ‘dangerous man.’ He is dangerous in the same way that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi were dangerous. He is a man of peace, a man of truth, and a man of faith. In captivity, he has continued to embody courage and dignity. His example is a rebuke to the tyrants and secret police of a regime whose day is passing.
"Dr. Biscet is also a young man. God willing, he’ll soon regain his freedom, as justice demands. He deserves to be reunited with his wife, Elsa, and all their family. And the land they call home deserves to be free."
This trip is Dr. Biscet’s first time out of Cuba. He and Elsa have finally been able to reunite with their children. They’ve celebrated with old friends, and it’s been a joyous occasion, he told us. But the land they call home still deserves to be free. Even outside of prison, Dr. Biscet is still harassed by state security. He remains under surveillance, except at the Bush Center. [Laughter.] He continues undaunted in his struggle for a free Cuba. I’m inspired by his unyielding commitment to his people and his nonviolent defiance of an unjust regime. He symbolizes all the brave men and women of Cuba who continue to have a vision for a free and democratic Cuba.
Laura and I will continue to stand with the Cuban people for their freedom. The Bush Center will continue to stand for the Cuban people’s liberty. We will continue to stand with a great man with a mighty heart, Oscar Biscet.
I’m now honored to finally present Dr. Biscet with the Medal of Freedom.
This was a wonderful occasion and , though Bush is far too polite to say so, a stark contrast to Obama administration Cuba policy--whose goal has been rapprochement with the Castro regime despite any level of human rights abuses. Biscet truly is a hero, and one can only hope that this recognition provides him with a modicum of protection. As President Bush said, Biscet’s courage and sacrifice for the freedom of his fellow Cubans is an inspiration- as is, in its way, Bush’s own continuing dedication to the expansion of freedom in the world.