If it Wasn’t Persecution, What the Hell Was It?

Erasmo Calzadilla

The University of Havana
The University of Havana

HAVANA TIMES — I love old people. Not always of course, but they usually transmit a sense of tranquility and serenity to me.

That’s why I relaxed when I found out who would be the head of the Employment Justice Council (OJL)1 – the entity that would serve as the arbiter in the case leveled against me by my employer four years ago.

Old Ciprano2 (the president) wasn’t going to allow any injustice to end up getting me thrown off the university staff – so I thought.

But that thought was wrong.

My intention isn’t to retell my story right now. Rather, this is about someone I learned about through the words of old Ciprano.

During the pre-hearing period, Ciprano and I meet several times to sort out the formal details of my case. During those times, we would chat leisurely about this and that, since we had a pretty good relationship.

On one of those occasions the old guy commented that over his long tenure as a member of a university’s OJL, only once before had he been required to decide the fate of a professor.

The previous time

In the mid-80’s, a young female Cuban mathematics professor was completing a doctorate in the German Democratic Republic. Everything was going as planned when this disciple of Pythagoras entered into an intimate relationship with a local woman.

I don’t know if it was because of the extreme efficiency of Stasi (the depraved State Security Service), some apprentice spy (a future hero) or simply someone envious, but what happened is that someone began spying on her private life. The upshot was that in less time than it takes to boil an egg, the professor found herself seated in an Ilyushin Il-62 airliner cutting through the clouds back to wonderland.

But the “surprises” didn’t stop there. When the professor got to her desk in at the University of Havana, she found it occupied. But how? It turns out she had also been fired by the math faculty’s administration.

“Eva” (we’ll call her) found herself faced with a dilemma. She had to decide whether to abide by the political and administrative decision, with her tail between her legs (and then find another place to restart her career), or to fight the powerful machinery at the risk of her case turning into a scandal.

She decided to fight. She went to the university’s Employment Justice Council, which was under the then not-so-old Ciprano, and he initiated the process that would culminate in a public hearing.

But seeing her privacy vanishing to the point where everything was open to comments, gossip and jokes, she got scared and stopped the process.

Above all, she feared that the scandal would come to affect her family and her aging parents.

By the time Ciprano finished telling the story — giggling — my body was full or fury, pain and fear.

Several times the old man had tried to convince me that “for my sake” I needed to abide by the administrative decision and to not make such a fuss.

What was he trying to do now?  Scare me? Or was it that decrepitude had loosened his tongue?

Why was he giving the details of this witch hunt to a “dissident blogger” (that was what I was accused of by the institute)?

Real or not, the story was perfectly plausible.

Today the government-state(security)-party has a more tolerant attitude toward sexual dissidence, but there was never an official apology, nor was anything ever done to compensate the victims – let alone bringing to justice those who were the most responsible.

Some activist should collect the names and stories of victims of the homophobic witch hunts that took place in this country. That would be a first step on the road to moral and material damages that society (and especially its legendary leaders) owes them.


1. An Employment Justice Council is a panel that exists at every workplace. It consists of three people who serve as arbiters in the event of a dispute between a worker and management.

2. The names used aren’t real.


2 thoughts on “If it Wasn’t Persecution, What the Hell Was It?

  • Just as here in Yuma-land, reparations owed the descendants of slaves, or to the lefties who were persecuted from the late 1940’s through early1960’s, or the gays who were persecuted from forever until the 1980’s, are unlikely ever to be paid, still, collections of anecdotes of the bad old days may be in order. In the early to mid-1960’s when I was a sailor in the U.S. Navy, an anti-gay witch-hunt swept through my base. Several shipmates from my barrack were “disappeared” and given Bad Conduct Discharges from the Navy (which, subsequently hurt theire careers, ability to collect veteran’s benefits such as the G.I. Bill or grants or V.A. mortgages with low-down payments, or job prospects); now all these events are lost in the sands of time. Be glad that, for the most part, we have gone on to a different place (although in Yuma-land, if you are gay, or a leftie, or a religious skeptic, and are unlucky enough live in The South, or in much of the “Flyover Country,” you might still be subject to such persecutions at the hands of the local Bible thumpers.

  • Best wishes, Erasmo.

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