HAVANA TIMES — Over the past two hundred years, Ariel has been the literary symbol of free spirits, haunted by tryants and merchants. From Shakespeare to Rodo, this character embodies the ups and downs of so many intellectuals, artists and scientists, who are ignored by fellow nationals, under the oppressive rule of dictatorships and oligarchies. However, sometimes the metaphor becomes sad reality.
Ariel Ruiz Urquiola is a young scientist being held prisoner here in Cuba, the victim of a rigged trial revealing a country’s impunity where State law supersedes its people’s rights. A renowned biologist and dedicated environmentalist, Ariel had been denouncing Cuban officials’ poor management for a few years now. This as well as his friendships with rebellious young people, were reason enough for the State’s repressive machine (political police, courts, ordinary criminals) to come crashing down on him.
In spite of pressure, Ariel didn’t leave his homeland. He launched an agroecological project, along with his family, in a remote place on the island (www.havanatimes.org/sp/?p=133195). In a country where young people (especially highly-educated and trained youth) leave Cuba to go anywhere else, looking for a future, Ariel’s determination should be recognized and encouraged.
However, any praxis of independence is suspicious to a government who is more worried about clinging onto power and controlling society. And if a scientist, resolute on acting as a citizen, is leading this movement, then that just makes matters worse.
Ariel is being locked up in dreadful overcrowded conditions, in a precarious food and health situation. On the other hand, he is now one more of the thousands of Cubans (mostly Black and poor) who inhabit Cuban prisons, making Cuba one of the country’s with the highest incarceration rates in the world.
However, Ariel has become the example that henchmen think to use to discourage any public event and articulation from the Cuban scientific community. In the same way they have been harrassing and managing rights of artists, independent workers, the (few) NGOs that have existed on the island and even emigres, in a country of hostages, where the government uses its power to manage its citizens’ lives, emotions and hopes.
As a result of his human warmth and career, as well as how abusive and ridiculous the case against him is, dozens of Cubans (including colleagues living on the island) have raised their voices to support Ariel on online platforms (https://www.change.org/p/pico-y-pala-ariel-una-fuerza-de-la-naturaleza) and in appeals presented to the corresponding bodies. However, that isn’t enough. We have to demand Cuban officials (both here in Cuba and abroad): release him, drop this out of proportion and legally shady legal process, honor his discourse of a Just Revolution. To Cuban scientists: Defend each other. To foreign universities: denounce agreements with a State that imprisons its researchers. To the press: give him fair visibility.
To every decent person out there (Cuban or foreign, scientist or not) who knows about Ariel and his family’s drama: don’t turn a blind eye. Nobody is talking about attacking barracks or boycotting a global summit. This transcends ideology and personal sentiments. Whatever we risk in our lives and careers is nothing if we compare it to what Ariel and his loved ones are suffering. Let’s stand with them, let’s not fall victim to our fears, calculations and fatigue. After all, Ariel’s work is for a better future for everyone. And therefore, his defeat is also our defeat.