Here You Have to Be on One Side of the Fence or the Other
It has been three days since Pedro Ariel Garcia Rodriguez had to quit his job as a nurse at the National Institute of Oncology and Radiology. The 36-year-old asked to be discharged after being subjected to threats and pressure by administrators due to his Facebook posts.
“When I decided to go public, I turned to social networks because I didn’t have any other choice,” he tells 14ymedio. After losing his job, Garcia recorded a video explaining his situation and posted it on the networks. Within a few hours his words — calm but forceful — had found their way to several digital media websites.
The nurse decided to ask for time off after several meetings with superiors, who questioned his posts criticizing the Cuban system. Such reprimands have become increasingly common on the island since Legal Decree #370, which regulates content posted on the internet, took effect last year.
The first sign of trouble occurred on Saturday, May 9, when he was summoned by the head of nursing and taken to see the hospital’s deputy director, Erasmo Gomez, who was joined by other employees serving as witnesses.
“Gomez pulled out a file and said the issue was about what I was posting on Facebook,” explains the young man. Among the evidence the official showed him was a meme with an image of Fidel Castro, which he described as “counter-revolutionary.” Garcia defended himself by invoking his right to freedom of expression.
“If I have the right to say ’down with imperialism’ and ’down with the embargo,’ why don’t I have the right to say that in Cuba many of our rights are being violated?” asks Garcia. But his reasoning was lost on Gómez, who has been described as a “white-collar repressor” because of threats he has made against other employees on previous occasions.
“Before this, they had told me they had the highest regard for me as a nurse and that my job performance was good,” recalls García, who regrets that this situation occurred in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, when there is an increased need for healthcare professionals.
The deputy director warned the nurse that his opinions would prevent him from working at any other institution in the country because his ideas were “counterrevolutionary,” a political dictat that threatens García’s career as well as his pursuit of a nursing degree. He now fears he will also lose the right to continue his studies.
Although none of those present at the meeting has been identified as a member of the secret police, Gomez indicated that State Security had given him the dossier with copies of the posts from Garcia’s Facebook account.
“That meeting was on a Saturday and they told me I should think about it over the weekend because I had to delete all those posts by Monday. I would also have to begin posting statements in praise of the Revolution and expressing my gratitude for its accomplishments,” Garcia states.
Garcia responded, however, that he would not obey the order. If they show me that something I have said is false, of course I will delete it,” he states. “I understand that making jokes about people who are dead and who have a connotation for the country can hurt the institute’s image. I understand that and I can delete it, but that’s it.”
But Garcia’s critical posts are not limited to memes about Castro. On his webpage he uses the word “dictatorship” to describe the Cuban system and also has characterized the country’s overseas medical missions as a form of “slave labor.”
“Here you have to be on one side of the fence or the other,” the deputy director told him at the end of the meeting. For a couple of days, the nurse thought everything “would remain as it was,” that it was just a warning. But last Wednesday, while on duty in intensive care, he was summoned to the nursing office.
“My wife works at the same place. The head of nursing told me that I was going to be investigated by a medical ethics council and, after that, I probably would not be able to keep working,” he says. “And since she is my partner, my wife would probably be investigated too.
His boss suggested that he not go before the ethics council, that he ask for a leave of absence and say that he has made this decision due to personal problems. “I did it to protect my wife.” says Garcia.
Garcia believes his career as a nurse is over for now. “At the moment I cannot file an official complaint at my workplace. The institute operates under government control. My only option is go to the Ministry of Health but right now everything is shut down,” he laments.
The young nurse does not regret having taken his case to social media. “I think the only way now to get them to react is through national and international and pressure. People should know about it. It should be made public. I’m not one to hide and remain silent, so for me it’s not a problem. That’s why I did the video.”
“I would like to restart my career but I stand by what I wrote in my posts. The system that they call socialism is not feasible for any society, much less for Cuba. We’ve been under it for a long time and people are very unhappy. ”
Although he has lost his job, he holds out hope: “Fortunately, Cubans are waking up; every day there are more of us.”