15 Cuban students arrive in South Florida to take courses at Miami Dade College

Juan Tamayo in The Miami Herald:

15 Cuban students will start at Miami Dade College

  Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padron, right, arrives to a press conference with the first group of students coming from Cuba to study at Miami Dade College for a semester on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. Fifteen young Cubans, from rappers to dissidents, will begin classes at Miami Dade College Tuesday in an unprecedented scholarship program for students from a country were universities regularly expel opposition activists.

With some of the students already wearing sky-blue MDC hoodies, the 15 were introduced in a ceremony Monday to the professors who will see them through a six-month program of English, computer, business and social studies.

MDC officials did not allow the news media to ask the students questions, and a person involved in the program said the Cubans were very nervous, especially the younger ones and those who have never been out of their country before.

Cuban universities, all controlled by the communist government, regularly expel or deny entry to pro-democracy activists and sometimes even their children, under the well known slogan of “the university is for revolutionaries.”

Just last month, Miguel Molina reported he was expelled from his second year of medical studies in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba because of his activism in the dissident Cuban Patriotic Union.

MDC Provost Rolando Montoya touted the “We are One People” scholarships as the first of its kind since 1959. Other Cubans have studied in U.S. universities, but as individuals and usually with direct or indirect Cuban government approval.

The 15 are expected to return to their country after the program and teach what they learned in Miami to “others who don’t have the same opportunities,” said Juan Antonio Blanco, head of MDC’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Initiatives.

A Miami non-profit, the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, will pay the estimated $12,000 to $15,000 cost of transportation, housing and food for each of the students. The foundation won a $3.4 million, three-year grant by the U.S. government in 2011 to help civil society groups in Cuba, and gets more than $600,000 from private donors each year.

The Cubans, who arrived over the weekend, range in age from 18 to 37, are racially diverse and more than half are women, MDC officials said. They did not have the full list of names but some were known.

Among them are three well-known government critics: Raudel Collazo of the rap group Escuadrón Patriota – Patriot Squadron; graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto; and blogger Henry Constantin, who was expelled from the University of Oriente in 2006 and the Marta Abreu University in Villa Clara in 2008.

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