14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 9 August 2019 — Omara Ruiz Urquiola has lost weight. Since two weeks ago when it was announced that she had been fired from her job at the Higher Institute of Industrial Design (ISDi), she not only suffers from the loss of her source of income, but from the injustice she perceives in the lack of reasons and, in addition, the institution’s smear campaign against her.
“I am a free woman and everything I have done is to assert my status as a citizen,” she tells 14ymedio in the doorway of her house as one of those torrential downpours of summer evenings falls.
After making her dismissal public, the ISDi published a post on its Facebook page entitled Omara’s Lies in which it states that at no time was she “fired, expelled, terminated, made surplus, made available, or any synonym for breaking the definitive work link of any teacher.” In addition, they argue that the teacher “was present in only the first 15 minutes of a 1 hour 10 minute meeting.”
“Here is the recording of the meeting, listen to it and then we can talk. I’m going to walk away because I don’t want to hear it again,” says Ruiz Urquiola.
The audio, about fifteen minutes, records the words of Sergio Peña, rector of the Higher Institute of Industrial Design (ISDi), to fifteen teachers who are enough to conclude that, when Ruiz Urquiola leaves the meeting, the official had already given all the details: “That was the information, I’m all ears,” says Peña.
In the audio the rector explains that for the coming course he cannot “defend” the current staff of the ISDi and that the institution will hire based on the needs it has. “To all of you, we will give you a letter of recommendation so that, if you want, you can find a new center,” he says. In addition, he adds that the new structure was made at the end of the semester and will materialize in the month of October. Peña also clarifies that they did not want to give this bad news through a message or a call, and that is why they had called the meeting even though the teachers were enjoying their vacations.
During the meeting, the rector argued that Omara Ruiz Urquiola was among those affected because last year she had only 32 hours of classes in a semester and had not participated in design-related events, such as the Forma congress, which the ISDi organizes every two years.
Ruiz Urquiola refuted this statement and clarified that she had been involved in the congress, as the paper published in the catalog indicates, but that she could not go physically because she was sick with the Zika virus (transmitted by mosquitos).
“At the meeting, while I was dismantling Sergio Peña’s points one by one, the department head who wrote the report about me not only did not say anything, but she lowered her head. She did not even confirm the Zika, which she was very aware of because I called her and explained myself, and she even told me how bad it had been for her when she suffered that illness on one of her trips to Guyana,” she says.
Milvia Pérez, dean of the ISDi and one of the people who have hindered the teacher’s work, was also present at the meeting. “Milvia went to see my department head and demanded that she assign another teacher to my classroom to monitor what I said. My boss said no, that she would have done that if she had wanted to but that it violated academic protocol.
“They cannot reduce my fixed position status when my evaluations have all been positive, not a single point has been made against me. They have visited me in many classes and all evaluations are satisfactory. It is too forced, and that is why I believe that there has been the reaction of solidarity that has been seen, because my students say it.
“It is inconceivable that I am in that situation, it is a great, great nonsense, a rudeness to get rid of me under any pretext. The problem they have is that I haven’t given them the pretext, they don’t have it and they have to invent it,” she denounces.
For Ruiz Urquiola, her dismissal is a maneuver of State Security and has a political background, as evidenced, she believes, by her exclusion from a new professional meeting.
“Four days ago I was informed that I am banned from participating in the Bauhaus Centenary, which is organized by the Palace of the Second Cape: Center for the Interpretation of Cuba-Europe Cultural Relations, to which I was going as a panelist. This event is sponsored by the German Embassy in Cuba and the Office of the Historian of Havana, and the latter is the one who vetoed my participation,” she says.
Now, Ruiz Urquiola’s idea is to demand her rights in the ISDi, although she has already been warned of the likely futility of that, with previous examples such as those of actress Lynn Cruz and biochemist Oscar Casanella. Her only option for now is to file a wrongful termination claim with the labor appeals court: “My health comes first, also the psychic damage is already noticeable; in me it is physically reflected by the weight loss, my body is feeling it.”
Ruiz Urquiola’s goal is to get her job back and the professional privileges that go with it. She is also demanding moral compensation for damage to her image. “They’ve use social media to make and corroborate crazy, fraudulent accusations, including professors who were at the meeting and are directors of the institution. I knew they gunning for me,” she laments.
She is also demanding that those directors be investigated and removed from their positions.
“They have lied, thay have abused their power, they have no way to undermine my judgment and have used their power to bully me. The day all my demands are met, then I will return to ISDi but otherwise no, because, simply, the social and psychological damage is great and irreparable. I have not done anything to be in this situation,” she defends herself.
Urquiola graduated in Art History in 1996 and taught at the Higher Institute of Art (ISA), where she was head of the Department of Scenic Design for the Theater Arts major. In 2009 she arrived at ISDi as a contract professor and in 2011 she became part of the permanent staff of the institute, where she passed her assessment as an assistant teacher of higher education.
That same year she received the recommendation of her students and won the Golden Chalk Award for “the quality of her teaching, her professional preparation and her role in the training and improvement of younger generations.”
Those who are or have been her students, in addition to some teachers of the institution, have come out in defense of Ruiz Urquiola on social networks and have launched a request for the teacher to return to the institute which already has more than 600 signatures and dozens of support messages.
For Glenda Álvarez, a graduate of ISDi, Omara Ruiz Urquiola is “a jewel,” and her Semiotics classes were a “relief” within “the torments of the basic cycle” of subjects.
“Omara was my Cuban Culture teacher and the truth is that I could not imagine a better teacher for the position or a more appropriate subject for her. Omara taught us to love Cuba. The passion with which she gave her classes and the ease with which hours and hours of precious information about our country came to mind, combined to keep a class of 60 tired design students, alert and listening, “says Javier González, another of her students.
Yenisel Cotilla, also an ISDi teacher, said: “Being a teacher goes beyond knowledge, it is about making a mark on students, changing their lives. ISDi students deserve a teacher like her, that is more important than anything else.”
“From the first day I was captivated with Omara, the first class left me so full of emotions that I could not help telling her (…) She never influenced us in any way with her political ideas, quite the contrary, she showed us things that we didn’t know about our own history, things that made our sense of patriotism grow, with it I discovered a story that encouraged me not to miss a class…” said another student, Flavia Cabrera.
These messages are now a source of relief the Ruiz Urquiola. “Everything the ‘kids’ have done,” drives her to continue forward.
The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.