By Yenisel Rodriguez Perez
HAVANA TIMES – After countless meetings with Angolan students studying Medicine in my neighborhood, I have finally shattered the stereotype of seeing a poor student being helped out by the Cuban government, behind every foreign student who comes here with a scholarship.
In 2006, I was already able to verify that a large percentage of foreign university students at Havana University, especially in the Law Department, belonged to middle class families and were paying for their studies.
The vast majority of them came from Angola, and they broke the stereotype of belonging to a Leftist youth that empathizes with the Castro regime.
They had completely different life experiences than your average Latin American university grantee that comes to study at Cuban universities. In short: they don’t generally come from poor families, nor do they receive a grant via geopolitical agreements.
In 2020, I have discovered other details about Angolan students in Cuba, this time about those who are studying Medicine. Many don’t go back to their home country to practice.
Nor are they members of the student solidarity program, and they have nothing to do with the progress of Angola’s public health system. It’s just demagogy! These middle-class students (or aren’t poor in most cases), hope to work as public officials in one of the most bureaucratic countries in the world.
Angola is marked by its authoritarian society, and great socio-economic inequality, among other things. Meanwhile, it provides benefits to its public administration, directly and indirectly.
“The Cuban government’s solidarity with Angola.” Pure shamelessness! Who is offering it and who is asking for it? Nobody.
Scholarships being awarded (which are far less than what has been announced) are nothing more than a decoy to cover up the academic “Black Friday” that is set up in Luanda (Angola’s capital) every year, with Medical degrees on offer through the Cuban embassy.
But why are Angolans so interested in studying in Cuba? Money! This is the achievement of real socialism in Cuba, which underemploys university professors so they can export them for pennies. Why are Cuban officials giving priority to selling Medical Degrees?
The answer is simple: because it’s one of the few branches of the Cuban education system that still holds onto some international prestige. This makes the selection process competitive at Angola’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That’s where many Angolans who study this degree on the island ultimately want to end up.
Xenophobia and the discrimination these students suffer here in Cuba is also an issue. However, I will only touch on how they recycle some aspects of this situation for their own benefit.
For example, how they encourage the invisibilization process that Cuban society imposes on them. Cubans are known for being “discreetly” xenophobic against foreigners who don’t come from first world countries, especially with Africans. Therefore, their purchasing power can slide more easily in everyday battles in Cuba.
Thanks to this coexistence strategy, our own middle class’ symbolic short-sightedness has played in their favor. Just as the weak self-perception of poverty in Cuba (poor? me?). This is how they use survival and resistance strategies that remain in our society, in the form of weak taboos.
Neither poor, nor helpless, Angolan students signify personal growth, capitalist entrepreneurship and a lot of common sense.
This common sense allows them to eat tench (a fish loathed in Cuba even in the middle of our national food crisis) with olive oil and dream, not of an electrical moped (a status symbol here), but of an armored Mercedes-Benz on some diplomatic mission in Europe.
Their accent is just to drive home just how ridiculous the pitiful image of Angolan and other African students is, here in Cuba.
We natives are being colonized more and more each day. We don’t openly express our preconceptions and most deeply-rooted prejudice. We commit the sin of being indoctrinated even when we believe ourselves to be sharp citizens. We lack common sense and are stuck in the political culture of intense complaining, self-censorship and idealizing emigration.
We used to give tench fish to cats before COVID-19 came (and they deserve it a lot). Today, we associate it with tough financial times during the pandemic. We prefer the creole croquette sold by the State, which has very little creole about it and much less protein.
But when you boil tench for a couple of minutes, the bones are easy to remove and you are left with excellent white flesh. Pay close attention, natives. This is “MEAT”! Vegans and those who sympathize with veganism, forgive me for this last statement. Middle-class Angolans buy tench by the dozen when they find it.