Cuba, Where Human Rights Are Seen as Wrong

Isbel Diaz Torres

HAVANA TIMES — My life partner, the optometrist Jimmy Roque Martinez, has just been approached in his place of work and accused of being a “human rights advocate”, and that he has been incited to become one by none other than yours truly. The Party is now suggesting that he ought to be laid off.

The accusation is being made by the Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) at his workplace, Berardo Duque Prieto. The whole thing strikes me as yet another sad, ridiculous farce involving an official who, for personal rather than professional reasons, decides to get rid of a worker.

As Jimmy’s job is at stake, I think going over the case now is worth our while.

In addition to being the Party Secretary at this workplace, Mr. Duque Prieto is also the Chair of the Base Labor Justice Department, the head of Human Resources and lay judge. Not surprisingly, the guy feels very powerful.

On more than one occasion, he has publicly announced that he is powerful enough to remove the director of Marianao’s 27 de Noviembre Polyclinic from her post, if ever he felt inclined to do so.

What angered this Party man so was an incident that took place days ago, when he brought a friend of his, the head of the Municipal Labor Office, to Jimmy’s office. This “high” official was treated by Jimmy with all of the professionalism that characterizes his work.

On being introduced, the official commented that Jimmy’s face seemed familiar to him. My partner replied that, in effect, they had met years ago, when he had been removed from his government office.

Though the head of the Labor Office was not offended by this, for some reason Jimmy’s remark was enough to hurt the tender feelings of Mr. Duque Prieto, who (according to his account) called the Military Counter-Intelligence headquarters to report what had happened. The counter-intelligence informed him that Jimmy was “a human rights advocate.”

I know the whole thing sounds funny, and it would be, were it not for the tragic underside to the story: Jimmy is the only breadwinner in his family, which consists of his ill mother, a sister who has been confined to a wheelchair since birth and a mentally challenged nephew.

Though the management at the polyclinic hasn’t penalized Jimmy in any way yet, Mr. Duque Prieto, who, as I’ve noticed, is prone to kicking up fusses at the entrance to the polyclinic, has spread rumors among employees, looking for support in his efforts to get him fired, and has called on the “communists” at the workplace.

In addition, he has abused his position as a high Party official and threatened a number of medical doctors, saying he will not authorize their trips abroad if they do not cease to mingle with Jimmy, hoping that he will tender his resignation of his “own will”.

Though Jimmy does hold human rights to be valid and would not be afraid to say so in public, it would be hard to seriously maintain he is a human rights activist, first and foremost because he is a very shy person who doesn’t like speaking in public. His valuable contribution to the work of Cuba’s Observatorio Critico is the closest thing to any form of activism he has ever been involved in and the only thing that could have earned him this amusing label of “human rights activist” – and he has no intention of denying the work he does there.

Nevertheless, as every Cuban knows, being stigmatized with such a label can have nefarious consequences. For a considerable part of our population, ill-informed by our official media, being a “human rights advocate” is something along the lines of being a terrorist, a mercenary, a murderer or a fascist.

An uneducated man, the head of human resources is unable to hold any kind of debate about these issues. On several occasions, Jimmy has tried to discuss other political issues with this man, to no avail. He immediately gets worked up, yells out a couple of “revolutionary” slogans, and storms off.

On one occasion, Jimmy commented on how the anarcho-syndicalist movement had contributed to the struggle of the Cuban working class at different points in history, and now Mr. Duque Prieto is showing polyclinic employees a definition of anarchism (probably taken right out of a Stalinist manual) so as to discredit the young revolutionary.

Is he, and the counter-intelligence agents, aware of the fact that the Cuban government is one of the signatories to the Human Rights Charter? Does that mean anything to them?

In addition, Cuba’s out-of-date and highly limited Constitution enshrines the main human rights, including freedom of thought and expression and the right to work.

I am almost positive these fellows know nothing of union leader Alfredo Lopez, of Boris Luis Santa Coloma, who was once the boyfriend of Haydee Santamaria, a friend of Fidel Castro’s and one of the assailants of the Moncada Garrison, Camilo Cienfuegos’ father and union leader Margarito Iglesias, all of whom were anarchists. They are probably also unaware of the fact that members of the 26th of July Movement would meet at the headquarters of Cuba’s Libertarian Association.

A couple of years ago, Jimmy went through a similar ordeal, when he was fired from a hospital because of his environmentalist and political activism with Observatorio Crítico. On that occasion, the management trumped up an excuse to get rid of him, concealing the political reasons behind the decision.

In this case, the Party leader’s skills aren’t too impressive, and he has begun a rather ridiculous ideological war. If you want to have a “battle of ideas”, you first need ideas. We hope the management at the polyclinic will see the absurdity of the situation and penalize this official for his abuse of power.

Support from those who, in or outside of Cuba, feel this arbitrary measure as an affront on their ideals, is needed. Any recommendation or pronouncement on your behalf will be useful in our efforts to put an end to the petty maneuvers being essayed against my partner.

As for me, I will keep readers, the international community and the pertinent entities in Cuba informed of how this politically-motivated affront on a person’s rights unfolds.

Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.


10 thoughts on “Cuba, Where Human Rights Are Seen as Wrong

  • August 1, 2013 at 8:20 am
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    Oh, you can believe the Cuban rulers watched with trepidation as the people rose up against the dictators in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria. It’s not for nothing that the Cuban ambassador to the UN spoke out in defence of of Gadaffi and Assad. Birds of a feather.

    This is why the Sate Security agents have dramatically stepped up surveillance and repression of dissidents.

  • July 31, 2013 at 9:44 pm
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    Uh…der…I knew that. 🙂

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