HAVANA TIMES — Looking back on my days as a member of Cuba’s University Students Federation (FEU) means remembering the badly-cooked peas served at our student residence; the rancid ground turkey that repeated itself on the cafeteria menu as invariably as any constant learned in my Physics class, and carrying a bucket full of water up three flights of stairs to be able to bathe in my dorm.
Then came El Estado Metaestable (The Meta-Stable State), my modest attempt at turning a few pages of amateur journalism into a university periodical, while at the same time doing my many calculus and linear algebra assignments.
In this periodical, a column, titled La Mirada Critica (The Critical Gaze), sought to address the problems everyone was aware of but no one did anything about: administrators making food meant for students “disappear”, the shortage of mops to wipe the floor with, the scarce number of computers in the labs, the out-of-date textbooks, the cafeteria food that increasingly resembled vomit, and a long list of etcetera’s.
My scribbling as editor and columnist for this publication, essayed when I was still 19 – a girl with something of an empty stomach and a truckload of stress upon her – ended up getting me in trouble.
One invariably gets into trouble, as a member of the FEU, when one’s interests and concerns reach beyond wanting to dance to reaggeton rhythms or to become an athlete who is invited to sporting events, when the federation’s membership card (which you receive as automatically as a textbook in a non-elective) means more to you than having to participate in official government parades and vacuous student group meetings.
The 8th FEU Congress is scheduled for mid-June. The date will also mark three years since the completion of my studies. After all this time, I can still vividly recall the contemptuous look many of my professors gave me when I graduated and the slogan “the University is only for revolutionaries” – a slogan with which my expulsion from the Federation, and many distressing meetings held to decide whether to expel me from university altogether or not, were justified.
At one point during my fourth year, I had “stepped over the line”, criticizing the stagnation of the only organization of Cuban university students in the country and the conceited poses of its leaders, who pretended to be young revolutionaries and were anything but.
Today, the University of Havana calls on students to take on a kind of outspoken leadership within the organization, and from the center of the country a call has been made to address the distance that exists between leaders and members.
During the past Congress, the only improvement students managed to secure was a raise in their monthly stipend. Other matters – an issue as important as Internet access, for instance – were disregarded.
Though very few, laconic news about the Congress have reached us, I can confidently say it will likely not put an end to the dysfunctional workings of the FEU. To achieve this, we would first of all have to renounce our basic comforts and re-build the Federation from the ground up.
We would need to stop treating “autonomy” as a bad word, “academic freedom” as a dangerous possibility and the co-management of student affairs (by professors and students) as an unthinkable option.
We would have to start talking about revolutionizing the university and putting behind us the “participation of university students in the continuation of the revolution”, a slogan that encourages inertia and obedience, not leadership.