By Jose Raul Gallego Ramos (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES – In a 500-something word article published on Cuba’s Ministry of Higher Education official website, the first vice-minister of this institution, Martha Mesa Valenciano, has outlined the political discrimination that characterizes Cuba’s university system, without beating around the bush or any shame.
Making an indirect reference to Professor Omara Ruiz Urquiola’s case (a university professor at the Superior Institute of Design (ISDi) who reported institutional maneuvers to lay her off), the vice-minister asks the following questions:
“Can you be a teacher in Cuba if you are far-removed from politics of this country?
“Can you be a teacher who doesn’t defend every step the Revolution takes to death?
“Is the harsh criticism it continually receives considered university autonomy?
“Is it right for those of us in academia to be talking about criticism by calling for human rights?”
Finding a foot in Fidel Castro’s 1981 speech (it’s important to remember where this ideology comes from), Mesa ends her statement: “Whoever doesn’t feel they are an activist of our Party’s revolutionary policy, an advocate of our ideology, our morale, our political convictions, must renounce their position as a university professor.”
The vice-minister knows what she’s talking about. Not only is her “theory” founded on the axiom that “the university is for revolutionaries”. It’s her practice.
As the dean of Universidad de Oriente in Santiago de Cuba, Mesa Valenciano was involved in the expulsion of professor and Doctor of Legal Sciences, Rene Fidel Gonzalez Garcia, back in 2016. Rene was accused of being a mercenary and working for the enemy because he was publishing articles on digital media platforms which were openly Left-wing, such as La Joven Cuba, Rebelion and Sin Permiso.
For that reason, the current first vice-minister has written up a report for “alleged crimes against freedom of speech, the abuse of authority and the falsification of public documents,” although the District Attorney’s Office hasn’t processed any action on this case yet.
While Mesa’s article is outrageous, it doesn’t contribute anything new to the institutional discourse that deans, Party cadres, State Security agents and “revolutionary” professors have upheld for decades, to purge universities of students and teachers for ideological reasons. A coercive policy which has been shaping collective consciousness with its implementation and victims, so much so that her statement didn’t even trigger a (public) reaction from professors who are still teaching at Cuban universities.
The first vice-minister’s line of thought (which she expresses from a position of power and backed by institutions) violates freedom of thought, conscience and speech which is stipulated in Article 54 of the Cuban Constitution. It also violates Article 42, which establishes every Cuban “equal in the eyes of the Law” and protects them from being discriminated against for any “personal condition or situation that is harmful to personal dignity.” By demanding that professors choose between being pro-government activists, or resign, Mesa Valenciano is discriminating against these professionals for political reasons.
Converting her word in the institution’s policy, the Cuban State is overriding the definition of academic freedom which was recognized by UNESCO’s Member States in 1997 (Cuba being one of them), and Articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the country has signed but not yet ratified.
Not forgetting that these statements damage centuries of Cuba’s university tradition, during which generations of teachers and students fought for and defended different ways of thinking, autonomy and critical consciousness.
However, none of this is news. This is what Cuban universities are and have been since July 1960 when Comandante Rolando Cubela, leading the university militia, took over University hill, established a Higher Board of Education that cleansed 80% of professors and wiped out university autonomy once and for all. This is the same university that has made undeniable achievements in academic education and making it accessible to every citizen. However, it drags the dark shadow of ideological segregation which discredits it.
Many people have seen the beginning of “a new standardization” in Mesa’s words, a return to dark times, however in reality, the article is just one more piece of evidence to prove what President Diaz-Canel has been saying ever since he stepped up to the presidential plate, which he was handed: they are continuity. The continuity of a policy that has been a constant in Cuba’s higher education and which has, generally-speaking, always been present, whether it was applied half or full-heartedly. The continuity of the kind of people who rise up the social and political ladder in Cuba.
This fellow Cuban, who casts doubt on criticism from a “human rights view” from the very beginning of her article, and who doesn’t appear on the Internet with scientific publications when you search her name, could not only quite likely become the future Ministry of Higher Education; but is also a member of the State Council. I believe that the ascent of these kinds of people within the current government and their public empowerment are factors to bear in mind for those of us who hope that President Diaz-Canel gives a democratic twist to his policies, when the time comes.
Mesa’s articles, as well as attacks in Granma newspaper of comedians and the self-employed and the increase in arrests and pressure on journalists, activists and citizens in general, are all proof of the rise of a reactionary stance in the country today, and it seems like just the beginning…
Nevertheless, the publication of this article isn’t completely negative. It serves as proof, as it exposes these positions as State policy, which is extremely important. Not just for Cubans, but for the international university community who are still unaware (or turn a blind eye) to the existence of ideological discrimination in Cuba, which would be inadmissible for many of them.
This international community only hears conciliatory and “politically correct” speeches when they meet Cuban leaders (outside of home, of course), like Mesa Valenciano herself said a few months ago at the 16th Congress of Spanish and Cuban Universities. On that day, the vice-minister stood among her European colleagues and didn’t speak about dismissals, the Party or ideological beliefs, but about diversity, equality, cultivating knowledge, social commitment, passion for rigor and self-improvement.
For those that understand Spanish here is the speech by Martha Mesa Valenciano, the first vice-minister of Higher Education of Cuba: