Reports from Cuba: It’s wearing thin

Waldo Fernandez Cuenca in Diario de Cuba:

It’s Wearing Thin

It was one of the few functions at the University of Havana that I will never forget. The event for “Young Communists” took place in the year 2010. It was held to assess the insistence of a Journalism student, who wished to travel to the United States in response to the American government’s offer of a scholarship in Leadership and Youth Empowerment for six months.

Popularly known as “SINA scholarships” at that time, they caused a big stir among university authorities. State Security had to take action to frustrate the aspirations of hundreds of young Cubans interested in obtaining scholarships to travel in and experience the United States.

Those present at the meeting in the Department of Journalism agreed to oust the girl from the ranks of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) just for accepting the scholarship. However, they disagreed that she ought to be definitively expelled from the University.

The municipal UJC official scoffed at the suggestion, insisting that “the time of expulsions from the University had passed,” citing as an example of the “new times” the fact that a son of opposition leader Oswaldo Payá was completing advanced studies without incident.

This official, well tutored by State Security officials, shared some of the tricks that students came up with to get around University officials and obtain travel permits. The young woman was ultimately able to finish her studies, and today works for an official media outlet.

I was reminded of this anecdote by the expulsion of Journalism student Karla Pérez González from the Universidad Marta Abreu de Villa Clara for belonging to the dissident movement Somos+. This measure forms part of a chain of events in recent years in which scientists, economists and other professionals have been dismissed from their jobs for holding positions critical of the regime, or simply for having links to Cuban dissidents.

For the Castroist elite it has always been key to keep a close eye on and control the thinking and plans of university students, especially those studying in fields that are critical to the maintenance of the regime’s totalitarian narrative, such as Law and Journalism. In this endeavor two facets of the university system in the Island are vital: the total absence of university autonomy or academic freedom for professors.

But this policy is wearing thin. The regime’s stale structures and institutions remain intact due to the inherent intransigence and repression that characterize Raul’s rule. One only need recall that Raúl Castro spearheaded the dismantling of the Center of American Studies back in 1996, with the false accusation that its members were “covert agents of Imperialism.” Opening up small gaps and spaces for dissent could end up overturning a rigid, fragile system in the short or medium term … and the Castroist elite knows this all too well.