Oscar Antonio Casanella Saint-Blancard, bio-chemist, researcher for the National Institute for Oncology and Radiobiology, speaks of how he is pressured and prevented from fully carrying out his work because of his friendship with dissidents.
DiariodeCuba.com, Waldo Fernandez Cuenca, Havana, 25 September 2015 — It all started because of a party for his best friend, Ciro Diaz, at the end of 2013. Ciro Diaz, besides being a graduate in Mathematics from the University of Havana, has just one remarkable characteristic: He is a dissident and member of the band Porno for Ricardo. Soon came the threats from State Security to make him a prisoner if he engaged in the activity.
Then came the accusations at work of his being “mercenary” and “annexationist*.” But at no time was this young man, a bio-chemist by profession, intimidated, and he resisted the wishes of his oppressors. Oscar Antonio Casanella Saint-Blancard has kept his ties of friendship with Ciro and other opposition figures.
Casanella made his case known to the independent project Estado de Sats and was also arrested during the wave of repression unleashed by the performance by activist and artist Tania Bruguera at the end of last year. Since that time his harassment by State Security has continued, principally at his place of employment: The National Institute for Oncology and Radio-biology (INOR) where he serves as a researcher.
We talked about his current work situation and the plight of the Cuban health system. In spite of the difficulties he has lived through, Oscar has never lost his smile, and he maintains the same composure as always, which has lead to his repressors to try to corner him.
What situation are you in right now?
Right now I am subjected to psychological warfare in the workplace. Not just me, but also my co-workers, and it hurts me more for them than for myself because I have already overcome my fear, but my colleagues have not.
What does the psychological warfare consist of?
The doctor and deputy director of research for INOR, Lorenzo Anasagasti Angulo, has been pressuring and coercing my co-workers, above all the laboratory managers, to not let me into the various labs of the Center. He explains that there is a labor rule that says that access to these places is restricted, and that is true, but it only applies in my case, because the other researchers enter and exit the various labs without any restriction, while my access is impeded. I think I am treated very differently and discriminated against.
That is not the only thing that has happened to you…
Before this, in June of this year, I prepared a course on Bio-computing for students at the University of Havana and researchers from the INOR, and after my immediate boss had approved it, even though teaching personnel had reserved a hall for me to teach the classes, when this was all coordinated with the Biology Faculty so that students of that school could receive this training, this gentleman, Lorenzo Anasagasti Angulo, did not give me the authorization to teach the class.
But it did not stop there, he also coerced many employees of the Oncology Institute to not attend the course, and he has told them on more than one occasion not to talk to me. All these actions were not enough for him, and he told me: “Oscar, get this into your head; I am going to make sure that you have no future in this institution and I am going to make everything as difficult for you as I can.”
This gentleman, together with a member of the Communist Party from the Pedro Fernandez Cabezas Institute, has threatened to expel me from the Center just because of my ties with opposition figures. Also, Anasagasti has pressured my colleagues to deliver the copy of the lawsuit and letter that I sent to Raul Castro where I reveal the articles and laws so violated by the State Security officers, agents of the PNR and members of the PCC and where I demand the President of the country leave me in peace.
The deputy director asked my colleagues to destroy all this documentation and said that it was “enemy propaganda.” So, to demand adherence to Cubans laws is, according to Doctor Anasagasti, “enemy propaganda.”
As if that were not enough, just a month ago Lorenzo Anasagasti appeared with two State Security officers at the home of Doctor Carlos Vazquez, head of the Board of the Oncological Tumor Devices, in order to sound him out and tell him in a threatening tone: “We’re checking up on you.”
Lorenzo Anasagasti is a collaborator with the repressors, which makes him another repressor who occupies a job at the Institute of Health which has nothing to do with these issues. This is a person in service to the Cuban political police and for him that function is more important than the professional development and education of the INOR. This gentleman has demonstrated that he prefers no thesis be carried out if I participate in the statistical analysis of an academic project in the Institute.
I also am a Molecular Biology teacher for a module that is taught to doctors who are specializing in Oncology, and I have to interact with a person who coordinates that course, but Anasagasti has demanded that person prohibit me from accessing his laboratory and pressured him to not even talk to me. In this way the interaction between researchers and workers, so necessary to offering high quality training for the country’s future oncologists, is made more difficult. The development and quality of teaching are sacrificed for the sake of repression.
Some foreign mission doctors are familiar with the dispossession of their fees by the Cuban government, and they justify it on the grounds that the country invests that money primarily in oncology resources. What is your opinion of this matter? Do you believe that is really so?
It is true that cancer treatments are expensive anywhere in the world and that, for being an underdeveloped country, the country’s situation is not one of the worst. But really the duties that the doctors, researchers, nurses and service personnel perform does not correspond at all with the wages that they earn and the conditions under which they work.
Currently the volume of patients seen in Cuba by a single doctor is abusive. It is a situation that affects the doctor as well as the cancer patient, who has to wait long hours to be seen, and now the quality of the attention and treatment is not the same. This is mainly due to a stampede, a very big exodus of professionals to the outside, and this causes a work overload for those who remain, although those from the INOR who emigrate the most are the recent graduates, not doctors, who barely stay two years between their graduation and their exit abroad.
I worked some years ago on research about brain tumors and, of the specialists who carried out the research with me, all left the country. There was one point when INOR had no neurosurgeons or neurologists. Another interesting element is that when I started to work at the Institute in 2004, there was free internet access for all researchers, and the situation, 11 years later, is very different. In my department I do not have access to the internet, and I work in Bio-computing. They have restricted access to the internet only for department and laboratory heads, but there is less access than there was 11 years ago.
In spite of the promises that the Government has made to doctors about economic improvements like better wages, the chance to buy a car, a laptop, etc., several of the doctors at my workplace are very pessimistic, because they listened to the words of Chancellor Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla at the press conference about the embargo on September 16, which confirmed that Cuba was not going to change its internal politics. “Maybe I improve my life, but my relatives who are not doctors are going to continue with the same deprivations,” one of them told me. That’s why they have decided to abandon the country at the first opportunity that is presented.
*Translator’s note: An “annexationist” is someone who advocates Cuba becoming a part of the United States.
Translated by Mary Lou Keel