Dissenting Doctor Sees Family

By Patricia Grogg

HAVANA TIMES, June 15 (IPS) — The trip on Saturday to Argentina by Cuban medical doctor Hilda Molina brings to an end a case that generated diplomatic friction and tension between the island and that South American country. For years, Havana had refused to grant the professional permission to leave the country.

“I believe that my mother’s situation is what finally made them decide to give me the authorization,” said 66-year-old Molina, who until 1994 directed the International Center of Neurological Restoration (CIREN), a noted Cuban health care research institute.

The doctor traveled with a three-month authorization (a type of visa to leave and reenter the country), which was stamped in her passport on Friday for her round trip journey. However, she explained that her return to Havana would depend on the health of her mother, 90-year-old Hilda Morejon, who was said to be “in very bad condition.”

Since May of last year, Morejon has been in Buenos Aires, as does Molina’s son Roberto Quinones, who is also a doctor. The son is married to an Argentinean citizen, Veronica Scarpatti and is the father of two children.

Neurosurgeon Molina stated, “As for my mom, I can’t leave her while she’s in that condition.” Upon learning that her elderly mother had become sick two weeks ago, she wrote to Cuban President Raul Castro and to other authorities. “I told them I was willing to swear before God that I would return,” she said, adding “I’ve also done a lot of praying.”

“Now I feel a mixture of happiness and worry … because I’ll be able to hug my grandchildren and see my son after so many years, but I fear for my mother – that they’ve not told me the whole truth about her health,” indicated Molina, who packed her suitcases on Saturday to leave the island that same evening.

The resolution of this case was made known on Friday directly by Argentinean President Cristina Fernandez, who described the outcome to journalists as “very good” news. “We view this gesture by the Cuba government with much satisfaction,” added Fernandez, who visited Havana this past January.

On that occasion, Fernandez held official talks with her Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, and met for more than a half hour with former president Fidel Castro, who stepped down from office and ended his public activities in July 2006 due to serious ailments that required several operations.

Without naming her, Fidel referred to Molina in the foreword of a book reissued in 2008 about his trip to Bolivia in 1993. In that writing, Castro says that the doctor had aspired to become the owner of CIREN “like some of her colleagues did” in the former Soviet Union.

“She was discovered and removed. The theory was concocted that this was because of her opposition to the use of human embryonic stem cells in research, but she never spoke a word about that,” wrote Castro, who admitted that a request made by the doctor to travel abroad had been previously denied. “It should not have been granted in the face of blackmail,” he asserted.

In turn, Molina denied that she had ever wanted to “appropriate” CIREN. “I served my country in the field of medicine (…) I never had special privileges, and everyone can see how I live (…) they said that I was controversial, but, well, I’ve always defended my points of view,” she commented.

As she contends, she was removed from her position at CIREN in 1994 for differing with official health policy, because she was accused of “prioritizing” the treatment of foreigners as a source of institutional profit. She also quit the Communist Party and her position in the country’s one-chamber parliament.

Molina told IPS that she “disagrees” with the government, but that she does not consider herself an opposition activist. “In 1996 I was in the Independent Medical Association, but for only about three or four months. There were good people there, but also some who were government informants,” she said.

Her case generated strains in Cuban-Argentinean relations, especially in December 2004, when her almost 48 hour stay in the embassy of that nation fed speculation that she was seeking political asylum. However, this was later denied by both she and her son.

Molina told IPS, that she and her mother went to the embassy to see the letter of response from then-president Fidel Castro to his Argentine counterpart, Nestor Kirchner (2003-2007), husband of the current head of state, and that she also held a “teleconference” with her son, by invitation of one of the diplomats.

“I never thought that something so innocent would cause all this confusion. I didn’t want there to be problems between the two governments,” said Molina, who assured that her stay in the diplomatic mission was due to a hypertension attack suffered by her mother.

The case of the neurosurgeon was resolved last Wednesday, a few days after the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted the Cuban report on the humanitarian situation in this Caribbean country, and prior to a report on the same issue coming up before the European Union (EU).

EU foreign ministers met on Monday in Luxemburg, agreeing to seek deeper political dialogue with Havana that begun in 2008, although without ceasing to stress the need for progress around the issue of human rights.

*Havana Times translation of the original article published in Spanish by IPS.