“When there aren’t many decent men, there are others that have the decency of many men.” – Jose Marti
By Lynn Cruz
HAVANA TIMES — Many people in Cuba have heard the surnames Ruiz Urquiola by now. The mystery that surrounds both Ariel and Omara has become an obsession for me, both of whom are excellent in their fields of work.
Omara graduated in Art History and is currently teaching at the Superior Institute of Design (ISDi). She has been fighting breast cancer for the past thirteen years.
Ariel is a PhD I n biological sciences and is currently serving a year-long sentence at the preventive detention center at Pinar del Rio’s Luis Lazo provincial prison.
Omara owes her life to a strike her brother led in front of Havana’s Cancer Treatment Hospital, complaining about the unjustified shortage of the drug that she needs every 21 days.
Omara, how is your health right now? Have you picked up on any negative attitudes towards you at work?
I am very vigilant because I know that medicines are in shortage at the National Institute of Oncology and Radiobiology (INOR) and my skin rashes grew quite quickly during two treatment cycles so my doctor ordered some tests to see if it had spread and to see how far along the cancer is.
“Miraculously”, all of my symptoms regressed as of the next cycle. They obviously started giving me monoclonal antibodies again which is injected intravenously, which I also have no control over, as it is already prepared when I receive it.
Suspecting something was up, I began to ask for the empty medicine bottle, which normally end up in the garbage. In the beginning, they used to tell me that they had forgotten and that they had already thrown it out. Then, I was told I had to make a formal request. I wrote a letter to the director telling him that I wanted to take away the empty medicine bottles with me. The director, Dr. Curbelo, didn’t see me and sent Dr. Soutullo in his place, who didn’t know how to explain what his role was at the hospital exactly; he said that he was related to Security and to the management team too.
The conversation ended with insults and a lack of respect from this man whose speciality is still unknown. On Wednesday May 30th, the manager of the pharmacy told me, by email, that Dr. Curbelo was refusing to hand over the empty bottles. Right now, I feel well enough, in spite of everything. It seems my body is resistant, although tired of course.
With regard to my work, my colleagues and students have only ever shown me solidarity and respect. However, I got wind of the fact that Havana University’s board, embodied by Cobreiro (who is responsible for kicking out my brother and other teachers), is drawing up a strategy to harass me. He hasn’t found anything on me because of my extremely well-known addiction to work and reservations until now from my colleagues for taking on such an awful task.
How do you feel about all of this, as a person and professional working in the Arts?
Today’s situation is defined by the subsistence of precarious conditions which have existed for decades, which not only contribute intellectually decimated results because of the chaos our general education system is in, but is also saturated by official figures’ discrediting this at every level.
Cuban families have suffered too many disappointments and they contemplate “existing” and a life without any anchors in real hopes of prospering in Cuba; as a result, many people think about emigrating.
Nobody in their right mind or with a notion of how things work in the real world (beyond the “there’s water everywhere” view) will put their futures at risk by committing their children to repressive institutions.
Therefore, the most gifted refuse to join military detachment ranks or anthing similar, where university access is offered bypassing entry exams, among other benefits.
The most gifted enter university on their own, those who can’t handle the pressure choose the “easy” way out, without even thinking about the risks that accompany this decision a lot of the time, both for them and their families.
I feel hopeless when I think about the younger generations of professionals, frustrated and overwhelmed gifted youth, who logically don’t want to be part of the Cuba which is still in construction.
Political prison in Cuba has been hidden behind the abstract concept of “counter-revolution”. It’s even more astounding that common crimes are being made up, like in Ariel’s case, in a country where the State has even legalized the black market verbally. How do you feel about our legislative power being subject to State Security?
I knew members of Cuba’s State Security ever since I was a child and my early teens. As of the ‘90s, they became the opposing side. My father was the head of the Interior Ministry’s Development Group, that is to say, he was a part of the government apparatus, until he openly said, on different occasions, that Cuba couldn’t enter a Special Period in times of peace, that there was no justification for this, and that the only cause was a poor economic policy, lack of vision for a development strategy for Cuba and this led to a confrontation with the highest members at MININT.
General Ochoa’s execution had already happened, General Del Pino had already fled and at that time, unconditional support of the Armed Forces’ professional sector was being called into question. He asked to retire because he was also disappointed and he was relocated, waiting for the papers he needed at the Border Control office. In the end, my father suffered an unfair 20-year sentence, for an alleged crime of preparing to leave the country. Nothing was ever proved.
Ever since then, we have been carrying this stigma.
Those people, in the distance, held onto their ideas firmly, whether they were sane or not, but ideas at the end of the day.
They did everything for those supposed ideals, even give up holidays and cushy jobs which is unthinkable for most Cubans, because they were working… there were always the invaluable, missions (macabre I’m sure), they always spoke about the opera, films, literature, among other worldly things. They could eat with a fork and they knew how to say “good morning”.
Today, State Security officials come mostly from low-income backgrounds, aren’t very bright and therefore lack the ability to efficiently assess what the cost/benefit relationship of their actions is.
Let me explain, when I have “dealt” with them, they are extremely obvious, they show all the signs of having studied a counter-intelligence manual, but basically.
They not only take advantage of their “well-deserved” holidays, but they fight tooth and nail for them, for benefits too, like a crate of Heineken beer or ice cream (other ways to reveal their hunger), electrical appliances or transport means which they will never be the real owners of.
In short, they protect themselves in trenches of rocks, plastic, bottles and some Chinese or Korean brand fridge; they howl, bite, intimidate and kick, without any of the beliefs which fell along with the Berlin wall (which they will never know about), which also intended to divide fellow countrymen and succumbed to the crushing reality of life. However, Germany is just good football to then, in the smartest of their minds.
Every time a punishment of this kind is carried out, that is to say, a conscience punishment, it’s inevitable to think about what the action was that provoked the most anger. I thought about it when I was kicked out of Actuar Agency, at least. What do you think was the trigger for Ariel?
Look, Ariel has called out many state-run institutions for their social dysfunction, from the Forest Rangers which are affiliated to the Interior Ministry, Vinales National Park, the Science, Technology and Environment Ministry (CITMA), the Forestry Company ad the Agricultural Delegation (MINAGRI).
On the other hand, Cuba’s legal “system” would have to take legal action against the institutions and people involved in the abuse that Ariel has been subject to, on his farm in Vinales.
Also, not taking actions against him (which means to say against my family) would prove alternative media (which they discredit time and time again) as the right platform to denounce human rights violations, which is at every member of civil society’s disposition, no matter what their political position is.
This would lessen the bullying needed to bring a halt to any dissenting voice regarding our national reality, from society’s intellectuals, as well as farmers, who have become the most silenced and economically depressed sector.
It implies accepting the existence of a different civil society, albeit tacitly, among Cubans who are still here and our counterparts in the diaspora community; with deep ties and in continuous construction, which are visible in our abilities to organize and project in critical situations of abuse against any of their members, even though we don’t personally know them.