HAVANA TIMES — Anabel Vidal Fernandez, a resident of Cojimar in Havana del Este, lost one of her daughters in a school accident a little less than a year ago.
Although she repeatedly tried to uncover the irregularities surrounding the accident, motivated understandably by the desire to see justice done, she claims none of the public authorities she consulted paid her the least attention.
She finally consented to the publication of this exchange in the hope of getting a fair hearing.
HT: Anabel, what was life like for you and your daughter before the accident?
Anabel Vidal Fernandez: My little girl was called Lesdiany Rodriguez Vidal; she was twelve years old and was in the 8th grade in the “People’s Republic of Angola” high school in the East Havana housing projects of Alamar. She lived not far away with her grandmother who is a responsible person, loved by many and with a long revolutionary background.
HT: Didn’t she live with you?
AVF: She preferred to live in Alamar where her friends were. When I came to live in the neighboring Cojimar she didn’t want to change schools. However we were very close by. Every morning I’d go and pick her up at here grandma’s, comb her hair and we’d go together to the school.
HT: How did the accident happen?
AVF: On Friday September 16 last year Lesdiany told me that two days later, on Sunday, there was volunteer work to be done at school and she wanted to go. Her grandmother and I gave her permission.
The day of the volunteer work came and her teacher told all the students to go up alone to the classroom, because she was on watch duty. In the classroom there was a window that had been broken for several years. The only protection was a board that had been placed over the window.
Often the students would take it off and start playing, jumping up and down going in and out the window onto the parapet.
That afternoon Lesdiany and two of her companions were playing at the open window. When she sat down on the window sill to get back into the classroom, she lost her balance and fell on her back receiving a blow on the head. It was the fourth floor and she fell onto the parapet of the third.
A teacher took her to the polyclinic. When they got in contact with me, I took her to the Juan Manuel Marquez hospital where my sister works as a nurse. She said the girl had a fractured skull. It was serious.
She was given the necessary treatment in intensive care, but she had several fractures of the skull and there was a lot of internal bleeding. Two hours later I was told that there was no hope. Five days later the inevitable happened.
HT: How did the authorities react?
AVF: During the time we were in hospital they put a teacher on permanent duty, someone from the municipality, someone from the government and another from the party. The hospital was crowded, but all of those people knew about the window problem and nobody was capable of taking action.
The very same day of the accident the provincial director of education came and in my despair I asked her to please fix up all those schools that have problems with windows, and she said the budget didn’t cover it, and that the priority at that time was the senior high students on the streets.
I asked them please don’t take the children from school to the wake at the funeral parlor, and the first thing they did was fill the place with children. I was very upset and threw out all the people from the party and from the school.
Minutes earlier they informed me they had put in the window in the classroom. But it was too late, my child was lying there.
Did she have to die for them to fix it? Is a child’s life worth less than a window? Does a child have to die in every school before they fix the windows?
HT: And who did you complain to about what you thought unjust?
AVF: Three months after desperately waiting for the verdict on the case, the state attorney closed it saying that nobody pushed my girl. That it had been an accident and that she fell while playing.
She was still playing with dolls, she had no sense of the danger, there was no window there and everyone knew it.
I started to look for help. I went to Citizens Advice and the person who helped me told me that if the state attorney had closed the case, it would be very difficult to reopen it. But he was supportive and advised me to go to President Raul Castro’s Support Group.
On January 5 I got to the Support Group. There I was told “this has to be brief” because there were lots of cases pending. I got straight to the point and expressed my dissatisfaction with what happened. They told me I would have to wait a month for an answer.
After a month, and seeing there was no reply, I showed up again at the Support Group. I was again asked to present my case. I told them again, because they do not give you a receipt or a document of any kind, it’s all verbal. Then they told me I would have to go to the Ministry of Education for an answer.
There they told me I had to restate the complaint. It’s been two months and I have not received a reply of any kind. But still, I got an answer from Citizens Advice. They told me to come to the police station in Alamar to hear the result of the complaint that I had filed.
HT: What exactly was the complaint?
AVF: That I didn’t agree with the fact that my child had died and they had closed the case. Because somebody must be responsible. The teacher did not look after the pupils. The director did not take any steps to fix the situation of the window. He says he has proof he reported fortnightly to the municipal education authorities. So the responsibility lies with the municipal director.
At the local Police station, I was told that nobody could be held responsible for the accident. But that school was very bad. On several occasions, parents of students in the classroom had to go to repair the chairs and the windows.
I myself put up a few patches over the window. Patches that the same teenagers then took it upon themselves to remove later.
However, the reaction of the second in command of the unit was to ask me if I was being treated psychologically, insinuating that I’m crazy.
HT: What does your mom think about it all?
AVF: She thinks I’m trying to commit counter revolution. She’s a blind communist. All I want is the truth to come out. That they tell you why these things happen and not pull the wool over your eyes.
HT: How did her little sister react?
AVF: She was at the same school. She saw her lying injured in the hospital. Luckily she took it well. But the director of the municipal education office offered to help to her with the CDO, which is a center that helps children with problems. Since then no one has visited us or shown any interest in how we are getting on.
HT: What about the witnesses in the classroom?
AVF: They didn’t get anything out of the statements the children made. Even her cousin was in the classroom and couldn’t say anything definite. Not even the police investigator could not tell me how things had happened.
In short, everything has conveniently remained a mystery.
I do not want jail for anyone, because I know life is very hard inside, but a director like that school’s is not fit to continue managing in education. I would ban him from any kind of work having to do with children. You see it’s a matter of justice, not revenge.