John O. Tamayo
Cuban dissident and former political prisoner Oscar Elias Biscet called on Wednesday for a new mass movement to demand democracy and human rights "in public places, in a non-violent political challenge" to the government.
Flanked by other dissidents at a press conference in Havana, Biscet said "Emilia Project" has begun a solicitation of signatures for a statement rejecting all parts of the communist government as "illegitimate".
The second phase, he said, will be to present the declaration and signatures to international organizations such as the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands and the Commission on Human Rights, the Organization of American States (OAS).
"But the fundamental work is here in Cuba, trying to create a large civic mass movement" to try to advocate for democracy and human rights "in public places, in a non-violent political challenge" to the government, told The Nuevo Herald by phone from Havana.
Over time, the movement could become a political party, said Biscet, 51, a physician and founder of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights and considered one of the most respected critics and conservative governments of Fidel and Raul Castro.
Dissidents have launched several similar campaigns in recent decades. Some were crushed by the government and others simply went out for lack of popular support.
Biscet and his wife Elsa Morejon, a professional nurse, were fired from their jobs in the public health system for their activism and he served 11 years in prison, the first three for dishonoring a national symbol to raise the Cuban flag upside down, among other accusations.
He was released in late 2002, but was arrested again a month later and tried as part of a crackdown on dissent in 2003, known as Cuba's Black Spring, when 75 opposition activists were sentenced peaceful up 28 years in prison for "counterrevolutionary activities."
Biscet told Amnesty International "prisoner of conscience" in 1999, and President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.
Biscet was released in March 2011 as part of talks between Raul Castro and the Catholic Church that led to the recent release of 2003 prisoners who were still in prison. Most former prisoners went straight into exile in Spain, but Biscet and about a dozen of them remained in Cuba.
Biscet said "Emilia Project" was named after Emilia Teurbe Toulon, who sewed the first Cuban flag in 1849.
"We've been through more years than we recall how the communist regime has not concede a free atom and has stood rigidly and arbitrarily any changes to ensure a decent life for our people," the statement said.
"We have no alternative but (...) the non-violent political challenge to realize the freedom of our people," he added.
Biscet identified the first seven other people who signed the declaration as Cubans who had remained active dissident groups and human rights in some cases.
These were: Carlos Manuel Rodriguez and Agustin Figueroa Pupo Galindo, of Union Free Cuba, Jorge Lorenzo Omar Pimienta, National Council for Civil Rights in Cuba, Hugo Brito Damian White, hardline Front and Orlando Zapata Tamayo Boycott; Angel Pablo Polanco Torrejón and Gabriel Garcia Gordillo, the Committee for Change, and Jose Diaz Silva, the Opposition Movement for a New Republic.