14ymedio, Havana, 9 May 2018 — Cuban biologist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola was condemned on Tuesday by the court of Viñales, in Pinar del Río, to one year in prison for the alleged offense of contempt, a sentence that has affected his closest relatives because it is the maximum penalty for this type of fault.
According to El Nuevo Herald, Ruiz Urquiola communicated through the activist Ailer González that, before being arrested last Thursday, “more than five men, officials of the Forest Rangers who did not identify themselves with first and last names, forcibly entered the farm.” These individuals accused the biologist of cutting down trees to fence his land without permission even though he had an authorization to erect a barrier.
Urquiola was arrested at the farm in Viñales that he leases from the government when he refused to hand over his work tools to the officials. Apparently, Ruiz Urquiola accused them of operating as “the rural guard” (an allusion to Cuba in the republican era), a term that earned him detention for contempt.
The biologist started a hunger strike on Saturday to protest against irregularities in his case. His family claims that the Prosecutor’s Office, which requested four years in prison, had fabricated the case against him.
Boris González Arenas, a friend of the scientist, told 14ymedio that Ruiz Urquiola was held incommunicado for four days. “The process has been almost summary, giving very little time to find a lawyer and prepare the case,” he denounced.
“It is a horror what has happened, a crime of state with the clear intention of sending the message that under the government of Miguel Diaz-Canel the government remains the same repressor and that nothing has changed,” says González Arenas.
Ariel’s sister, Omara Ruiz Urquiola, told Diario de Cuba that the objective of the charges against her brother is to take the farm from her and said they will appeal the sentence, for which they have three days.
The house, located on the plot, and the land, is managed by the Urquiolas under a form of leasing known as usufruct, and they have developed it into a agro-ecological farm. In 2008 the Government of Raúl Castro authorized the leasing of idle state lands in usufruct to try to revive the agricultural sector. Urquiola has repeatedly denounced the raising of wild pigs in the area where his farm is located, a situation that has produced a negative environmental impact in a World Heritage Site with high natural and tourist value. His complaints have been directed to the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of the Interior and the authorities of the People’s Power of the zone.
The biologist and doctor of Sciences has participated in several research projects on Cuban biodiversity. He also directed an international research effort conducted between the University of Havana, the Natural History Museum of Berlin and Humboldt University on the origin and settlement of the Sierra de los Órganos, in Pinar del Río.
In 2016, the scientist was expelled from the Marine Research Center under the official charge of unjustified absences, but, in his opinion, it was a plot against him because the authorities do not consider him “reliable” due to his political leanings .
At the end of that same year, the biologist was arrested three times for demanding the medicines needed for his seriously ill sister. After a hunger strike and a vigil outside the Havana Cancer Hospital, Ruiz Urquiola managed to get the delivery of the drug to his sister restarted.
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