‟I was purposely infected with HIV in prison by Agents of the Cuban State”

Against the backdrop of the International Human Rights Day on December 10th, 2019, the international community is urged to take a closer look at Cuba again. Civil rights activists and dissidents as well as their families are being harassed, arrested arbitrarily and have to fear for their lives. This can be seen very clearly in the case of the Cuban biologist and environmental activist Dr. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, who will return to his home country on December 10th. The political prisoner has been invited by the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) in Frankfurt am Main/Germany, where he talked about his hunger strike and his infection with HIV by agents of the State.

When Dr. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola accused the Cuban government in his research projects of destroying the environment, he was harassed in several ways. The authorities tried to withdraw his teaching license and to end his academic career.

‟When I was arrested, I was demonstrably still healthy, but I have been infected with HIV in prison on purpose”, says Dr. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola.

Repression because of research projects

Dr. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola © ISHR

Dr. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola had criticized the Cuban system already as a student. He attracted attention nationally and internationally with his research about environmental damage in Cuba. Amongst others he demonstrated that the Cuban department of fishery destroyed wild turtle populations in the Caribbean. The result was threats to withdraw his doctoral degree and to end his employment contract. Due to his lawyer he was still allowed to continue his research – except about maritime topics. He was also allowed to teach, but not at his original school. After he had been expelled from university due to trumped up reasons and the hospital didn’t want to give his sister necessary cancer medicine, he embarked on a hunger strike in protest, for the first time.

Serious illness after imprisonment

After that he decided to live at an organic farm in the region Vinales and wanted to build a research institute there. His goal was to keep records of the condition of the forest and of endangered animals and plants. But this project was forbidden by local authorities. The secret police was also responsible for killing animals of the farm and for poisoning the water in the well. After a staged assault of two policemen Ariel Ruiz Urquiola was arrested on May 3rd, 2018 and sentenced to prison for twelve months by a kangaroo tribunal. He was remanded in jail on May 8th, 2018 and protested from June 16th to July 2nd with a successful hunger strike which led to an early release from prison on July 3rd, 2018. On June 16th, 2019 he got informed that he is HIV positive. He eliminates a natural infection strictly. He believes that he had been infected with the HI virus on purpose in prison.

According to a statement of Dr. Ruiz Urquiola the doctor’s reports show that he got infected during his imprisonment. The lab results also confirm an infection on purpose. That’s how the short time between hospitalization and illness with a high inoculum (infective material or one as an antigen acting part of a germ), e.g. from a lab virus, can be explained.

There is a system behind the harassment of civil rights activists

The Cuban authorities’ didn’t even stop in regard of Ariel’s family. After his sister Omara, who has breast cancer, had been treated haphazardly, Ariel found out that the department of health was responsible for the mistakes that had been made during her treatment. Moreover Omara Ruiz Urquiola had been disinvited from academic events and in the end lost her job as a professor for design and arts at the University of Havana.

This is line with the recent reports of the ISHR in the case of the internationally known Cuban leader of the opposition José Daniel Ferrer, Head of the democracy movement UNPACU, who protested from the beginning of mid-November with a hunger strike against torture and his arbitrary arrest from October 1st, 2019. José Daniel Ferrer has been imprisoned for more as 56 days now. His health condition is bad and he said in a recent talk with the archbishop of Santiago de Cuba that he has not been getting any medical treatment.

The ISHR notes that the Cuban regime harasses and bullies systematically highly qualified dissidents, who could advance the country with their knowledge and reputation. When the environmental activist Dr. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola returns to Havana on the International Day of Human Rights, he – as well as other Cuban dissidents – urgently needs the protection of the international community.

Martin Lessenthin, ISHR Germany