My First “Cuban-Style” Lay-OffDecember 11, 2013 | Print |
Jimmy Roque Martínez
HAVANA TIMES — As some of you may know from reading the Havana Times, I have been laid off. This is not, however, my first experience of this nature. I would like to tell you how it is I lost my job the first time, at the beginning of 2011, when I worked as an optometrist at the Carlos J. Finlay Military Hospital in Havana’s neighborhood of Marianao.
Months before my lay-off, my boss had told me that Cuba’s Military Counterintelligence Department had been asking about me. That hadn’t come as a surprise: I knew that being involved in political activism critical of the system while working at a military institution was something the authorities could not tolerate.
These comments confirmed my suspicions that State Security would try and remove me from my position at the hospital, and that I had to be careful not to make any mistakes that they could use as a pretext to do so (as everyone knows, the authorities never invoke an explicitly political reason for firing anyone).
After my boss had told me this, a friend took a Latin American friend to the hospital to ask me if I could see him. Of course, I did not, knowing that could be the perfect pretext the “secret agents” needed. I did, however, mention my friend’s visit in a message I sent out from my work email account (which they regularly check) and unwittingly gave them a reason to fire me.
A month after my friend’s visit, in January, my boss asked me whether I had been visited at the hospital by a foreigner. I replied that I had, making it clear that this individual had left immediately and had not received any kind of medical attention.
My boss had no problem with that, but, at the time, he had no idea who was behind the whole affair, asking the hospital director to fire me. A few days later, I was told they were letting me go from the hospital.
The letter of dismissal my boss had written read, verbatim: “The employee’s dismissal is being requested solely and exclusively on instructions from the hospital director.” In my work record summary, however, they had written that “the employee has maintained a good attitude towards work and has fulfilled all duties assigned to him.” The paragraph describing the reasons for my dismissal read: “under orders from the hospital director, Colonel (…)”
While the hospital union signed the dismissal request without asking any questions or offering me any kind of support, my workmates supported me. Some even received threats for maintaining any kind of contact with me. Fortunately, most of my colleagues did not give in to such blackmail and we continue to be friends to this day.
I was unemployed for six months, without earning any money, overwhelmed by appeals that went nowhere. My mother, sister and nephew, whom I support, also felt the blow. Very few people dared question the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), and those who did would decide to drop their cases after meeting with the hospital director.
Thanks to my perseverance and the help of friends, I was able to take the case to court.
During the trial, it was demonstrated (though never explicitly said) that my email correspondence was being read. It was even shown that the Counterintelligence Department had attempted to remove the illegal dismissal request from my work record, something they were unable to do because someone had courageously kept the file outside of the hospital’s Human Resources Department.
During the hearing, it was also demonstrated that there were no real reasons to fire me, and that my dismissal was in violation of all labor norms. Despite this, my appeal was denied weeks later. I had no choice but to simply take the injustice.
Now, two years after that incident, I have once again been fired for disagreeing with the “unanimous” consensus of the country’s ruling body, the Cuban Communist Party (PCC). This time around, I won’t waste any energy in legal appeals that ultimately do nothing, as they are the very same mechanisms the system employs to perpetuate itself.
I won’t, however, stay home with my arms crossed, that’s for sure.