Repression of Science
Posted on September 27, 2015
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
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
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
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
Source: Repression of Science | Translating Cuba -