By Alvaro Vargas Llosa | Deseret News
A few weeks ago, Hilda Molina, a delicate, soft-spoken neurosurgeon, obtained an improbable victory against Cuba’s regime when she left Havana and joined her son and grandchildren in Argentina. Listening to her story in a Buenos Aires restaurant, I could not keep from thinking that the real measure of the Caribbean tyranny is not how it treats its enemies but its friends.
Molina was her country’s first female neurosurgeon. In 1989, she founded the International Center for Neurological Restoration. It quickly gained attention; by the early 1990s, Molina’s prestige in the scientific community was so great that Fidel Castro decided to use her politically.
The party prevailed on her to become a deputy in the National Assembly, an activity she found “extremely boring” because she and her colleagues were “expected to rubber-stamp” decisions made “upstairs.” She played along, she says, “for the sake of my vocation.”
Castro became a frequent visitor to her center — until in 1991, the health ministry informed Molina that she and her staff would have to devote their better efforts to treating foreigners able to pay in dollars at the expense of Cuban patients. When she protested, she was reminded that she had an elderly mother and a son, neurosurgeon Roberto Quinones.
Understanding the threat, she advised Quinones to use the occasion of a professional trip overseas to defect. He did just that, settling in Argentina, where he and his Argentine-born wife eventually had two children.
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With her son out of Cuba, Molina resigned her position at the center and her seat in the National Assembly, and returned all her medals. That was the beginning of a 15-year ordeal. She was the object of numerous “acts of repudiation” — pogrom-like aggressions against dissidents in Cuba — and constantly vilified by the authorities. When her grandchildren were born, she begged to be allowed to visit her family in Argentina — to no avail.
“My only comforts,” she says, “apart from my mother, were a few brave friends critical of the regime who helped me in the worst circumstances.”
She became close with dissidents such as Dagoberto Valdes, Martha Beatriz Roque and the Ladies in White, as the relatives of 75 journalists and human-rights activists jailed in 2003 are known.
A few years ago, when Argentine President Nestor Kirchner asked Castro to let Molina visit Buenos Aires, the dictator replied, “Never!” In a foreword to a book titled “Fidel, Bolivia y algo mas,” Castro accused Molina of being “excellent material for blackmail.” By then, she had become an international cause celèbre.