The first few months that we were in Cuba, all students at the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) had to take a pre-med “leveling” course because we came from different countries, and it was necessary to begin with a more uniform level of understanding.
At the school I had the opportunity to get to know students from other countries. In the beginning, the different groups from each country were very cliquish, and their nationalism prevented greater bonding. In addition, the World Cup Soccer championships were approaching, so students became even more polarized in their fanaticism for the sport.
It was obvious that youths from any one country knew very little about other nations. Over the course of time, through our classes (where there were one or two students from each country) and due to soccer (despite the polarizing tendencies evidenced with the holding of the World Cup), the various groups of nationalities became more united.
The experience turned out to be unique. While each country possessed a rich culture and was different from the others, at the same time the particularities of Latin America united us. These commonalities were expressed spontaneously through cultural activities: guitar playing and drinking maté tea, dancing to Venezuelan and Honduran drums, cueca dancing, the marimba, Brazilian samba, as well as through regional vocabularies that enriched our discussions. In short, many forms were expressed in this encounter of our coalition of nations. The images became etched in the furrows of my mind as my concepts of the world changed rapidly.
This experience paid off in a personal sense as well. I had the opportunity to pursue a career, to give a tremendous boost to my entire family, to grow individually in several aspects, and when I return home I would possess the tools to give a hand to those in need of medical attention. Who could ask more of life?
Could I criticize anything about Cuba? Who was I to criticize it after having been given a free scholarship to study in this country? These and many other questions were also raised in the minds of students who came here with some level of political conscience, or at least those who had the socialist understanding that it was necessary to relate consciously to the country’s policies and respective practices.
A question was therefore presented as to how to carry out political activities and raise political consciousness if the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) was against this.
Most of the students were not interested in what was happening in their respective countries, they only thought about completing their medical training; the ideals of selfless human service were held by only the most progressive group.
Gradually the students who were interested in discussing political ideas and the situation in Latin America were consigned to conform to the management of the school, to the CCP. They learned how not to complain about things they didn’t understand; to accept that they had come to Cuba study, not to become involved in politics; and to view the CCP as the unquestioned leadership body.
“What could these kids know about socialism compared to the CCP?”
These were the conditions that were required of students who came with the idea from learning more than only medicine. Many of these students belonged to political parties and mass movements in Latin America that had -and continue to have- close relations with the CCP, and the leadership entities of these groups participate in common programs with the Party.
I was confused by this situation, and temporarily abstained from involvement in “political life.” Upon completing my premedical training, due to a personal situation I had to travel to Argentina, where I had time to think a little more about this situation.