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Cuban Whistleblowers Face Sanctions

Paramedics sacked after reporting corruption and mismanagement in the ambulance service.
By Augusto César San Martin Albistur

Whistleblowers who attempted to expose corruption and inefficiency in Cuba’s ambulance service say they were dismissed, harassed and had their wages docked for speaking out.

In June, Idalmis González Castillo, the head of a major ambulance station in the capital Havana, sent a report to the Council of State, Cuba’s day-to-day legislative body, in which she set out massive problems in the emergency response system.

The following month, González Castillo was the main source for an investigative report in Diario de Cuba, a news site based abroad, which claimed that ambulances were poorly ambulances, medical equipment was often stolen, and emergency response sometimes took 12 hours. Health service officials were accused of mismanagement and corruption in the report.

González Castillo, whose Base Centro ambulance station serves around 600,000 people in Havana, said that as soon as the story appeared, she was summoned to the health ministry and told to retract her comments. She was questioned by officials from the investigations department of the provincial emergency service office.

“They had a printout from Diario de Cuba on the desk, from which the took the questions they asked me,” she said. “I told them the same thing I’d told the press – this was what had been written in the report submitted to the Council of State.”

The officials quizzed González Castillo about her links to independent press based outside Cuba.

As a result, González Castillo was docked a month’s salary and lost her job. Her email account was closed and managers told her they had lost her personnel file. She sees this as an additional form of intimidation, since the lack of records will make it hard for her to find other work.

Colleagues who supported González Castillo’s attempt to expose problems also got into trouble. Several were dismissed or had their pay cut by a labour tribunal.

Pedro García Hernández, an ambulance driver and paramedic, said he was awaiting a health ministry interview for having given independent journalists the names of emergency service managers whom he accused of corruption.

Maricela Ortega Montalvo, a nurse who publicly opposed González Castillo’s suspension, had 25 per cent of her annual salary docked, purportedly due to time taken during work hours to obtain migraine medication. This decision was later rescinded.

Oslendi Hernandez Ortega, who works at the Base Centro ambulance station which González Castillo had headed, also had a quarter of her annual salary cut, and later restored.

Montalvo’s husband, paramedic Luis Alberto Romero González, was fired.

Base Centro administrator Carmen Julia Araugo, who supported the report on corruption, was also dismissed, ostensibly on the grounds that she had lied about her qualifications. Kenia María Puebla, a nurse linked to González Castillo’s administration, was transferred to a post with lower wages.

Employment lawyers involved in the case said the penalties imposed on the ambulance staff could not be justified by any law.

The health ministry eventually agreed that the labour tribunal which imposed the punishments had no legal basis, but apart from restoring some docked wages, it has not taken any other action to rescind punishments or reinstate sacked workers.

Augusto César San Martin Albistur is an independent journalist in Cuba.