(Thanks kindly to author Emilio Bejel for sharing this material.)


A Cuban-American Story

Emilio Bejel

(Translated by Stephen J. Clark)

(Boston: Versal Books, 2003; can only be purchased from http://www.amazon.com/)
(Selected chapters) 

The Batista Years

It was a sunny March morning in 1952. A group of nearly full-grown boys were frolicking in the school playground and I smiled at them sheepishly. The bald teacher carried a ruler and strolled about contentedly, as if guarding a precious secret.

“You’re going to fall. Get down from there. Well, you certainly are welcome to come get him, but he’s better off here at school where he’s protected. Emilito, your mom’s looking for you. He’s such a good little student. Here he is.

Zoila, a family friend, grabbed me by the hand with an iron grip. She was very nervous.

“What’s wrong?”

“We have to go home right away. You’re mother sent me for you.”

We left the school and headed for Céspedes Park. The sun was shining brightly. There were few people in the park, just a few shoeshine boys, not even Grandfather’s old cronies. We crossed over to the street with the awnings that led to the church. Zoila was in a hurry and said nothing to me.

When we passed by Artemio’s store, he came out and greeted us with laughter: “Better get a move on, the general’s back in the saddle.” And the hefty black man roared with laughter once more. When we reached the ice cream shop on the corner, we saw Canito, who looked shell-shocked but tried to appear calm.

“Thank you, hija. Come home with us,” Mamá said to Zoila.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, but you’d better get home quick.”

Mamá could finish her sentence, we began to hear the metallic clomping of horseshoes coming down Saco Street. The Rural Guard was riding through town on enormous sweaty horses that were snorting through their thick lips. They smelled like excrement as they marched along in twos, looking like minotaurs. Some of the guardsmen removed their hats and adjusted their sables as they passed by the windows full of eyes. We managed to get home before they passed us. You could feel the pounding hooves, the snorts and the swords. Mamá lifted the latch and pushed me inside.

At that moment Madrina, who was crossing the street from her house to ours, turned around and faced the street and shouted, “Down with Batista!”

The guards only response was, “Señora…”

The shitty-smelling horses continued along and Mamá grabbed Madrina by the arm and brought her inside. Nina and Zoila cried for a while and Grandfather came out of his room half-naked.

By the late 50s, the economic and political situation in Cuba was getting worse by the minute. Everyone in my family, all of whom were fervently anti-Batista, constantly spoke of the atrocities the government committed against those who disagreed with the dictator. The incident I most clearly remember from this time is the one involving my cousin Pedro, the most politically active member of our clan. Pedro was my uncle Pupo’s son, and his mother had died when he was very young. Mamá adopted him and he was like an older brother to me. By the end of the decade he was a married man who strongly supported the Orthodox party led by Eduardo Chibás. Pedro was obviously on the left of the political spectrum, and although he was a bit radical in his views, the rest of the family, including Mamá, my aunts, and my other cousins, were basically in agreement with him. I was about 12 or 13 at the time and for some reason I considered myself a very good painter. So during Pedro’s rudimentary political campaign for the Manzanillo city council, I painted some signs with his likeness and the following words in large, brightly colored letters: VOTE FOR PEDRO AGUILERA! ORTHODOX PARTY. Pedro was not elected, although I’m not sure if his loss was due to the political situation at the times or the rudimentary nature of his campaign, which had employed a 12-year-old boy as its chief publicist. What I am sure of is that the entire town (well, perhaps just the anti-Batista majority) lived in a constant state of fear over the possible reprisals by the government, examples of which were the assassinations of several known activists. More commonly, however, these daring souls were tortured. Typically, a protester would disappear for a few days and would later reappear out of the blue, either dead or full of bruises and lacerations. We all lived through several days of indescribable anguish when a similar fate befell Pedro, whom we dearly loved not only because he was family, but because of his personality. Pedro was a wonderful person, very considerate and soft-spoken like his father, but at the same time a true practical joker like Grandfather. Thankfully, Pedro reappeared several days after his disappearance and eventually recovered from the brutal torture he suffered at the hands of Batista’s henchmen.

From that moment on, we lived through a period of months and perhaps years of great fear. The rebellion against Batista was on the rise and we could hear the bombs that the urban rebels regularly detonated against the government. One day, in a bank just down the street from our house, a bomb exploded at midnight, breaking windows and terrifying everyone in our house. We looked through the shutters for a moment but immediately went back to our rooms to take refuge. At night we rarely dared to leave the house. Sometimes we would take the rocking chairs out to the porch to enjoy a bit of fresh air after dinner, but as soon as night fell, we would move back inside and lock the doors. Nevertheless, in the midst of such a heated and terrifying atmosphere, I recall that at times certain things would happen which now seem quite comical when I tell them to my American friends. These people usually have a hard time believing me, or they simply assume I was raised in a world of magical realism worthy of a García Márquez novel.

For example, in my childhood one of the most common forms of entertainment was the circus, which we never missed when it passed through town every now and again. What I enjoyed most of all about the circus were the wild animals, but the trapeze artists also made a big impression on me for a couple of reasons: first, because I realized they could fall at any moment and die before my very eyes; and second, because I was troubled by the attraction I felt for these strong men with large bulges (at least they looked large to me at the time) protruding from their tights. But given the increasing popularity of movies and television, our beloved Cuban circuses, like those in most other parts of the modern world, began to lose popularity and often had to shut down to avoid going bankrupt. One of the circuses that used to come through Manzanillo had fallen on hard times, and as a result some tents and cages with wild animals had been abandoned on the outskirts of town. I remember watching as a couple of the men who had stayed behind to care for the animals mistakenly raised the sliding door that divided the cage between the tiger and the lion. I watched with fascination as the two gigantic beasts battled ferociously for a couple minutes as the men sprayed water from a fire hose directly into their eyes in order to separate them. I don’t recall how, but they managed to lower the door again and calm was restored in the abandoned circus. I don’t remember ever seeing the tiger again, but I do recall clearly that the lion stayed on for a few years and that we called him Nilo.

In the evening we would often hear the lion roaring as we sat rocking out on the front porch. Madrina or someone else would usually say, “Nilo is hungry.” This was our cue to pick up some of the leftover meat and take it to Nilo, who was putting on a lot of weight not only due to his lack of exercise, but also due to the large quantities of food we brought him every afternoon. This almost surreal activity, along with reading and playing Parcheesi, was the only entertainment we enjoyed during those final terrible years of Batista’s bloody reign.

When Life Gives You Tomatoes…

“Hang in there! Come on now, hang in there!” the Mexican foreman shouted at regular intervals to the brigade of tomato pickers I was part of. Economic necessity had made me look for work and the only job I could find was in the tomato fields of South Florida. I remember that on my very first day of work, as soon as I got home, I wrote a letter to Mamá to tell her how wonderful my new job was. In her letter back to me, Mamá seemed a bit upset; she simply couldn’t fathom her spoiled little boy being content to live as a pauper, with no family to support him, working eight hours a day picking tomatoes under the hot sun. But above all, Mamá was hurt by the fact that I seemed to be getting along fine without her. In my next letter I told her the truth—that I was completely miserable—and then she became even more upset than after the first letter because the apple of her eye was in a bad way. From that moment on, I made sure to write her with a delicate balance of complaints and good news.

Picking tomatoes was pure hell; there’s simply no other way to describe it. I had to get up at four in the morning, take a bath, grab a bite for breakfast and then walk an hour-and-a-half to meet the truck that would take us to the tomato fields. I would sit in the back of the pickup along with a group of young men from various third-world countries and we’d try to keep the dust out of our eyes as we picked up speed. Finally, after about a two-hour journey, we’d arrive at the tomato fields and immediately start to work. The first thing I did was to watch and see what I was supposed to do, which was basically to pick the fruit from the bushes lined up in rows separated by furrows filled with water. The first day was the worst of all, but I later realized it had been so bad because I was taking it all too seriously. In a few days, I had made friends with the foreman, who allowed me to take a few breaks every now and then, and I started to hide behind the bushes in order to work at a bit slower pace. I had noticed that the foreman carried a rather large knife that he kept very sharp, and it occurred to me to ask him what it was for. His answer came without hesitation and left me dumbfounded: he used his knife to open the flesh and cut part of the muscle of any worker who was bitten by the highly poisonous water moccasins that populated the area and hid precisely in the furrows of the tomato fields. The foreman told me to be very careful when walking in the furrows in order to avoid stepping on “one of those bastards.” Fortunately, I was never bitten by “one of those bastards,” nor do I remember ever seeing one. I might have glimpsed one or two among the bushes, but I can’t recall for sure.

After a few weeks in the tomato fields, we were working rather hard one morning when suddenly we stopped because the foreman told us to pay attention to a group of men dressed in suits surrounding another man with his jacket over his arm. The man in the center of the crowd was wearing a sharply pressed white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and an elegant tie. At times he would look at the fields and then he would look back at the group of men who seemed to be explaining something to him. The man in the white shirt and tie was quite short and thin, and I heard someone remark, “Hey, that’s the president’s brother.” I don’t recall anything else about that incident, but over the years I have come to the conclusion that surely that man must have been none other than Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General of the United States, who had come to inspect the conditions in the tomato fields. A few days later, we were given a raise from 65 to 75 cents per hour, along with a retroactive adjustment that I was extremely happy to receive as gift from whoever that little man was that was dressed in a white shirt with a long and elegant tie.

In the midst of all these adventures, a few of my Manzanillo buddies and I had decided we needed to learn English. It goes without saying that to do so would require a great effort after working eight hours in the tomato fields. As soon as we got home, we’d take a shower, eat anything we could find and head to Lindsey Hopkins School to take the free English lessons the government offered to Cuban exiles. I remember that I felt at home once again in the classroom. After all, school and my studies were always the most important things in my life. I remember learning a great deal there from two women teachers whose faces and expressions I can recall but not their names. One of them enjoyed teaching the King’s English by means of songs and I pride myself on still being able to sing a few bars of “Stormy Weather.” Night school was great fun.

One evening as I was returning home from class to my apartment in Northeast Miami, someone shouted to me in Cuban Spanish from the window of a building I habitually passed by: “Boy, you sure like to shake that little ass, you faggot!” I kept walking as if I had heard nothing, but I couldn’t sleep that night worrying about whether I moved my rear as I walked, which in the Cuban culture was undeniable proof of being a queer. I began to think I needed to change my walk. The doubts had returned again: Was I a faggot?

Return to Cuba

By 1978 the political activity of the Areíto group had reached a fever pitch, and together with the Cuban government we set about organizing a so-called Dialogue between Cubans on opposite shores. This event was to consist of a group of exiles meeting face-to-face with representatives of the Cuban government to discuss several points of mutual interest. Among the exiles were intellectuals, bankers, businessmen, professors, artists, politicians and clergymen. All of us, despite our diverse political views, were critical of the economic and cultural blockade the U.S. had imposed on Cuba, and we hoped to somehow improve relations between our two countries. So a trip to the island was organized, sanctioned and to a great extent directed by the Cuban government. Among the most pressing issues to be discussed was the possibility that those of us living in exile might be allowed to travel to the island with relative ease. We managed to achieve this goal, which is an accomplishment of the Dialogue that endures to this day. Thanks to this accord, more than 100,000 Cubans returned to visit their homeland in a span of less than two years.

I remember living in a frenzied state during the months leading up to my much-anticipated return to Cuba. There were actually two Dialogues in 1978—one in November and another in December—and I took part in the latter. Having been invited to participate in this historic meeting, I set about contacting as many of my fellow Cuban exiles as possible in the hopes that they would join me or at least give their blessing to these activities. The first person I invited, of course, was Silvio, who immediately became very nervous at the mere thought of returning to Cuba. As soon as I received the news that my name was on the list of those who would participate in the second Dialogue, I put into action a plan I had formulated much earlier. For years I had known that if I ever had the chance to return to Cuba, I would enjoy each and every second of the adventure, starting with the preparations beforehand. I had crafted a minutely detailed plan that took into account of all the particulars, and I began to carry it out as soon as I was certain that my return would take place in reality instead of just in my imagination.

As I drove to the nearest Western Union office I once again envisioned every single action to be performed there: I would enter the office and tell the clerk I wanted to send a telegram to Cuba. In the telegram I would write the following message: “I’ll arrive in Havana the ___________ of ___________. I’ll do my best to get to Manzanillo. I can’t wait to see all of you. Love, Emilio.” The only details I hadn’t memorized, of course, were the date and month of my arrival. Things went as planned at Western Union and after paying for the telegram, I left the office and walked to my car in a state of near ecstasy. I would get to see Madrina again after all, and my cousins as well. Perhaps I would travel to Manzanillo and if so I’d be able to visit the graves of Mamá, Nina and Grandfather. Needless to say, that would be a very significant moment for me.

In the weeks preceding December 6th, my fellow dialogists and I could think of nothing else but our trip. And now, a full 24 years after the fact, my recollection of the events is still rather precise. From New York we flew to Atlanta where the Cuban government had sent a plane to meet us. There were 144 Cuban exiles scheduled to make the trip. We spent several hours waiting at a very remote gate at Hartsfield International Airport due to the fear that other exiles critical of our position might commit some act of violence against us or against the Cubana de Aviación plane. Such fears were more than justified given the several terrorist acts carried out by Cuban exiles during those years. In fact, not long before our trip to Cuba a young man who belonged to the Areíto movement was assassinated in Puerto Rico by a right-wing group.

The Cuban government had sent as our hostess none other than the prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso, who went to great lengths to treat us with the utmost diplomacy and graciousness. We had arrived in Atlanta in the afternoon, but there were many delays and soon it was dark. The wait was well worthwhile, however, for once aboard the plane, I immediately sensed an atmosphere of complete exhilaration, an unbridled enthusiasm on the part of all the participants. It was like a huge party. We were returning to our country, to our homes, to our families. The stewardesses offered us typical Cuban drinks and treated us like royalty. The festive mood was genuine and almost incontrollable. We were shouting, telling jokes and laughing hysterically. About to embark upon my first trip back to Cuba after 16 years away from my family, I shared fully in the euphoria. Although Mamá and Nina had died, I looked forward to seeing Madrina and my cousins, who were actually more like brothers since we had been raised together. What an indescribable sensation! Suffice it to say that as we traveled high above the Caribbean, I was truly on cloud nine. I felt a sense of pride and accomplishment along with many other emotions. I was returning to Cuba and to my family, and I would enter proudly through the front door. I had left as scared young boy without a pot to piss in and I was returning as a published professor, finally liberated from my childhood fears. I felt free. I had truly made something of myself. Politics meant nothing to me at the moment. The only thing that worried me a bit was the question of my homosexuality. I wasn’t planning to make a confession to my family or anything of the sort, but what if they asked me why I hadn’t married, or why I had no girlfriend? Would I be forced to lie? I tried to avoid dwelling on such discomforting questions.

I don’t recall how long the flight from Atlanta took, but the time passed quickly thanks to the animated conversation and the libations we enjoyed. We arrived in Havana around 8:00 or 9:00 pm to find a phalanx of reporters and TV cameras waiting for us as we descended from the plane. Perhaps showing my provincialism, I had purchased a very dapper suit for the occasion. God only knows why I had chosen to dress like a prince to visit a tropical communist republic! Once we got to the Riviera hotel, where we would be housed, I saw a huge crowd of people and soon realized they were Cubans hoping to leave the country who believed we could help them in some way. The Cuban government, in a gesture of goodwill towards the Dialogue, had released more than 3,000 political prisoners and had allowed them to go to the hotel to speak with us. The famous dissident poet Heberto Padilla was among this group of desperate individuals who were requesting our help in abandoning their native soil. The sight of this dissident mob left me stunned. I felt hurt and upset. I then saw a woman from the crowd point at me and remark: “Look how sharp that one’s dressed.” I was ashamed. The political, cultural and economic realities of my motherland finally hit home.

The hotel lobby was constantly jammed, and I spent that first night talking with Cubans from both sides of the divide. Even though I finally went to bed exhausted around dawn, I could barely sleep. After breakfast the next morning we were taken on a tour of the city in busses that had been chartered especially for us. At one point we were informed that our first meeting would be that afternoon with Ricardo Alarcón, who at the time was the Cuban ambassador to the United Nations (if memory serves me). At the appointed hour, we left for the National Palace to attend the meeting. We wouldn’t be going alone, however. Each one of us had been assigned an “assistant” or “host” whose job was to cater to our every need or want. Our chaperone was supposed to be at our beck and call, but it didn’t take a genius to realize that this person was actually a state security agent whose principal objective was to keep tabs on our activities and whereabouts. I realized this but didn’t give it much thought because I hadn’t come home to engage in any illegal activities and therefore had nothing to hide.

A large room at the National Palace had been prepared for the event with rows of chairs facing a platform. Alarcón and other members of the Cuban government sat at a table near the center of the platform. Several matters of importance to us as Cuban-Americans and to our countrymen on the island were discussed, most prominently the issue of visits to Cuba by exiles. The government representatives appeared to be in agreement with the crux of the plan, but they argued that not all exiles should be allowed to return because some had committed crimes against the state while others were common criminals. Then there was an intermission during which I recall speaking with several friends, some of whom expressed to me their strong objections to a few of the issues raised by the Cuban government. A few minutes later, we took our seats again and were suddenly told that the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Republic, the Maximum Leader of the Revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz, was about to enter the room to participate in our session. Castro made his entrance with his customary attitude, that of a self-assured domineering man whose overconfident air clearly communicated his sense of self-importance.

From that moment on, Fidel dominated the discussion to such an extent that it was reduced to a dialogue between himself and the Cuban-Americans. I didn’t say a word during the entire meeting, which lasted until the wee hours of the morning when it was announced that Fidel had to leave for the airport to greet an African leader who was visiting the island. That was the end of the first session. By the end of the second meeting, several accords had been reached, most notably the arrangement that would allow us exiles to apply for visas to visit our homeland from time to time. I can’t recall much at all from the meeting that took place the following day, December 8th. My next memories are of the moment I was reunited with my family. But I also recall a recurring dream I had during those days, which now I remember as follows.

We engage in friendly conversation while seated on the porch of a large country house surrounded by tall and wet trees. My gaze encompasses a semicircular open space in front of the estate. The grounds are covered by a lush and moist lawn that is carefully manicured. In the middle of the semicircle is a lake that shimmers like silver. We speak calmly, as friends do. His hair is already turning gray. I ask him how it feels to be so famous, to be a true living legend. He tells me he spends most of his days plotting political strategies, thinking about whose star is rising and whose is falling, who’s plotting mischief, and who’s nothing more than an idiot in disguise. We spoke for hours, as friends. He was dressed in his customary military uniform, but the cloth of his fatigues, when viewed from up close, appeared to be very fine and delicate, like something out of a Christian Dior catalogue. His cap was made from the same material. I explained my opinion of the Republican Party and why on this occasion the G.O.P. would no doubt manage to elect one of its own as president. He told me he wouldn’t ask me why I had left, because he already knew the answer. I was only upset by one thing he said that afternoon: “I’m going to tell Juana to make me a special custard tomorrow.” Then his face began to look more and more like my cousin Beto’s. I lost interest and despite being fully dressed, I dove into the silvery waters of the lake. When I emerged on the opposite shore, I was in another world. All the people on the train bound for Greenwich Village were absorbed in their own interests or thoughts. Some were reading their newspapers. Others looked out the windows as they clung tightly to the handrails that hung from the ceiling of the car. They began to stare at me and at that moment I realized I wore the same smile I had on the other side. They must have thought I was crazy. I smugly thought to myself: “If you folks only knew whom I was just chatting with, you’d been green with envy.” But soon they all returned to their self-absorption.


Sun staff writet

TALLAHASEE—After an unprecedented and heated debate, the state Board of Regents Thursday voted 3-2 to grant tenure to University of Florida professor Emilio Bejel.

The full 13-member board today will have to sort through emotionally charged references to academic freedom, communist Cuba, authors who fled Fidel Castro and even Adolph Hitler before full tenure is granted to Bejel.

The granting of tenure ordinarily is accomplished without discussion and with a unanimous vote by the regents.

But Thursday, the granting of tenure to about 125 UF faculty members turned sour when six UF students said Bejel systematically denied their academic freedom by emphasizing the study of socialist authors at the expense of Cuban writers living in exile in America.

Underlying the students’ charges are politics. The students say Bejel is a leftist who travels frequently to Cuba; Bejel told reporters in a phone conversation that he is by American standards a liberal who appears leftist to “right-wing” Cuban-American students and legislators.

“It seems that Dr. Bejel cannot separate his political activities from his work at this institution,” said spokeswoman Lilian Bertot, a doctoral candidate in Romance Languages at UF.

“Dr. Bejel’s lack of objectivity and political discrimination directly affects and invalidates the experiences of the largest minority in the university system and the largest Hispanic constituency in the state of Florida,” added Bertot.

Adamantly responding from his Gainesville home, Bejel said the students are motivated by rightist politics to discredit him.

Bejel added that he has had to endure for years the ire of Cuban-Americans who are resentful of Castro’s takeover of Cuba.

“This is a simple question of academic freedom,” said Bejel. “These people have had personal and political reasons for years. They use the power of legislators, the political power of Dade County against me. They think I am not right-wing enough and they use all the demagoguery they can find.”

The entire argument was couched in the polite guise of academic freedom that frequently broke down into charges and counter-charges.

Robert Bryan, UF’s vice-president for academic affairs said during the meeting that Bejel was unanimously approved for tenure during three separate votes on campus.

“I guarantee it to you, and you, that the academic freedom of these students will not be curtailed,” said Bryan, pointing alternately at the regents and the students.

Participating but not able to vote in the meeting, Chancellor Barbara Newell said that she was satisfied that Bejel’s peers at UF had voted in favor of granting tenure.

“I’m satisfied with the process in place at the University of Florida,” said Newell. “It has the best possible safeguards. It seems that the rights, freedoms and future excellence of the Spanish department has been reviewed and is in safe hands for the future.”

But Raúl Masvidal, a Miami businessman and the first Cuban-American regent, said that although qualified to teach, Bejel wants to “stultify” the academic freedom of the students.

“We’re dealing with an individual who is trying to limit the academic freedom and research of others,” said Masvidal, who voted to deny tenure until Bejel’s actions could be reviewed.

Regent Bill Leonard, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer, also voted to delay Bejel’s tenure.

“Adolph Hitler could come over here and be qualified to teach—after all, you know he wrote a big book,” said Leonard. “But would he be qualified to teach Jewish history?”

“I would support Adolph Hitler’s right to teach at the University of Florida (if qualified),” agreed Masvidal. “That’s not the issue here. My concern is that the students’ academic rights will be impinged upon.

It seems Fidel Castro’s Thirst for new real estate is unquenchable. After all, his successful intervention in the affairs of Nicaragua and El Salvador have brought him large gains while effectively making the United States look like an impotent giant whose big stick has been reduced to kindling wood.

We need not look very far to see what kind of freedom people enjoy when encountering Marxist-Leninist ideals. Here at our own university, a group of students traveled to Tallahassee to protest the granting of tenure to UF Professor Emilio Bejel.

It seems Bejel is a leftist supporter of the Castro Regime in Cuba. After all, Bejel is on the editorial board of the pro-Castro magazine, Areíto. This magazine supports and editorial policy that denies the existence of any Cuban literature or culture not authorized by the Castro government. You can bet this is not the free press we are used to here in the United States.

If this is not enough, Bejel is also a member of the cultural and educational group Círculo de la Cultura Cubana, whose enlightened ideas include the denial of the existence of any legitimate Cuban culture which is not associated with Castro’s revolution. Aréito calls the thousands of Cuban-Americans living outside of Cuba, “cultural deviants.” Bejel was quoted in the official Cuban communist Party newspaper Granma (Aug. 8, 1982) issuing a warning to the publishers of the world against a so-called “campaign against Cuba” on the part of exiled Cuban writers.

While I disagree with Bejel’s political views, I do not believe that this alone should be grounds for denying tenure to any professor. I believe that most people would agree with me that the squelching of academic freedom is a viable reason.

Among his duties, Bejel is responsible for the teaching of courses in Cuban and Latin literature. Here we have an individual who has publicly denied the legitimacy of a portion of the works he is responsible for teaching. His record supports the seemingly unavoidable conflict between his beliefs and his required academic objectivity.

In fall 1982, Bejel taught a course on the Latin American novel. Five of the six writers selected by Bejel for study represented the same view as his. When asked to include another prominent Cuban writer, such as Guillermo Cabrera Infante, a UF student was told by Bejel that his book was “too fat.”

In spring 1983, Bejel again failed to exhibit academic objectivity while teaching a course on Caribbean literature. He failed to include in the syllabus any Cuban exiled writers. He was, however, not short of writers who supported a pro-socialist and anti-United States stand.

In his position as graduate student coordinator, Bejel was charged with the overseeing of doctoral candidates in the field of Cuban literature. Several of the students who petitioned the Board of Regents were in Tallahassee on Friday. These students tell a tale of the difficulty of pursuing studies under Bejel.

Doctoral candidate Alicia Rodriguez testified that Bejel refused to turn over papers necessary for her research. Rodriguez is, of course, doing her doctoral dissertation on an exiled Cuban writer. Another doctoral candidate, Caroline Hospital, notes that Bejel also refused to turn over papers necessary for her research. He dismissed her request by saying that the information she had requested was buried in a box where he could never find it. So much for academic freedom for students here at UF.

It seems to me that these students took the only wise action by bringing these incidents forward to President Marston and the Board of Regents. After all, their request was reasonable—table Bejel’s tenure until an investigation is completed. I still believe that where there is smoke, there is fire, and this whole procedure reeks of smoke. As students, we can only praise the efforts of regents Frank Graham and Raúl Masvidal in their efforts to defend our academic freedom as students.

I believe an investigation still is in order. Let’s hope our administrators show some guts and clear this matter once and for all. Who would have thought that Fidel Castro’s thirst for real estate would extend to the academic freedom of UF students? Let’s quench his thirst with a glass of cool Fairbanks drinking water.

Gus Kein is a sophomore in liberal arts and sciences and chairman of Youth for Reagan.