Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, a physician and civic activist in Cuba, received a democracy award Wednesday for his “brave and courageous struggle” for human rights in Cuba.
Biscet, jailed in Cuba, was not present for the ceremony.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the International Republican Institute, called Biscet “a truly courageous man” and vowed that supporters of democracy in Cuba “will continue to fight for his freedom.”
Biscet, 41, was arrested in 1999 for organizing a news conference, at which he turned a Cuban flag upside down and protested human rights abuses on the island.
Amnesty International took up Biscet’s cause, declaring him a prisoner of conscience. Supporters have described the Afro-Cuban democracy activist, who espouses nonviolence and civil disobedience, as “Cuba’s Martin Luther King.”
The award marked the second time in recent months that U.S. legislators have honored a Cuban democracy activist. In September, the National Democratic Institute, gave its highest award to Oswaldo Paya, who spearheads a citizens’ campaign to bring political and economic openness to Cuba.
In a brief ceremony in McCain’s office, a representative of Biscet, Laida Carro, read passages from his letters from prison. In one, Biscet wrote: “I will never be able to forget or abandon my ideas.”
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, hailed Biscet as “a leader who is not swayed. He knows where Cuba has to go.”
Before his 1999 arrest, Biscet lost his government job in Cuba for refusing to perform forced abortions, the institute said. Biscet served three years in jail, at one point leading a 40-day hunger strike, only drinking liquids. During his imprisonment, he suffered gum disease but refused medical treatment because he distrusted the medical staff, Carro said.
Biscet and his wife, Elsa Morejon, founded the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights, which opposes the death penalty and seeks an end to Cuba’s one-party political system.Top