Cuban Dissident Awarded Medal of Freedom President Bush will award the Medal of Freedom to eight people, including the president of Liberia, the founder of the C-SPAN network, and the author of To Kill a Mockingbird. Cuban dissident Oscar Biscet will also be recognized, although he is in prison in Cuba.

Cuban Dissident Awarded Medal of Freedom

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

President Bush will award the Medal of Freedom today to eight individuals, among them, the president of Liberia, a founder of C-SPAN network, and the author of the book "To Kill a Mockingbird." One of those recipients wasn't at the White House to receive his award - Cuban dissident Oscar Biscet. That's because he's in prison in Cuba.

NPR's Tom Gjelten reports.

TOM GJELTEN: Oscar Biscet is the most prominent political prisoner in Cuba, and also the dissident whose views align most closely with the administration's own positions. His opposition to abortion, which is practiced widely in Cuba, makes him a hero to the pro-life movement. Biscet also agrees with the Bush administration that the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba should be maintained until there's major Democratic change on the island. That position sets him apart from Cuban dissidents with more moderate views.

He is a genuine political prisoner, jailed for his defiant opposition to Fidel Castro's regime. He espouses non-violence, and as an Afro-Cuban, Biscet counts Martin Luther King among his heroes, along with Mahatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama. Trained as a physician, Biscet was expelled from the Cuban health system in 1999 after staging a protest against the government's medical policies, which he said included forcing women to have abortions.

Arrested that year, he was sentenced to three years in prison for inciting delinquent behavior and insulting the symbols of the homeland. That last charge was a reference to Biscet flying the Cuban flag upside down to symbolize his country's distress. He was released in November 2002, but arrested again a month later after meeting with James Cason, the ranking U.S. diplomat in Cuba. Fidel Castro denounced Biscet by name as a counter revolutionary ex-convict who exchanges letters with President Bush. This time, he was sentenced to 25 years, and he remains in jail today. In announcing that he'd be awarded a Medal of Freedom, the White House called Biscet a champion in the fight against tyranny and oppression. The Cuban government has not yet reported that he is being so honored.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.

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