When Stupidity and Disgrace Take Over Cuban Universities

By Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

The University of Havana. Photo: Todd Bennett

HAVANA TIMES – Cuba’s vice-minister of further education, Martha del Carmen Mesa Valenciano, is one of those people who the world would thank for remaining anonymous and silent.

However, she hasn’t earned this and her reputation, ever since she was the Dean of the University of Oriente, has been tied to repressive acts against anyone who thinks, which is why she was promoted to be a member of the supernumerary State Council in 2018.

Mesa’s rise to the podium of disgrace came with her shameless statements about the conditions required from university professors in Cuba. It happened when Omara Ruiz Urquiola was dismissed from her teaching position at the Institute of Design, where she had a distinguished professional career, as you would expect from her high intellect and empathy.

These statements were published in a libel on MES’ official website, and the State Council member stated that the main requirement for being a university professor is to be 100% on terms with official ideology, to be “… a defender of our ideology, our moral, our political convictions” and a “…revolutionary political activist of our Party”. She added, “Being a university professor means defending our Comandante’s concept of Revolution,” she concluded.

Attributing any political authenticity to this creature would clearly be unforgiveable stupidity. She is only writing official political discourse. And as a group of Cuban intellectuals point out in an open letter they sent to the president, this policy needs to be denounced and rejected in every way as it inevitably harms the professional and political climate in Cuban universities. 

It’s a policy that violates national and international treaties that Cuba has ratified, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the World Declaration on Higher Education for the Twenty-First Century and other treaties and pacts in Education that recognize academic freedom and university autonomy as the essential foundations for a quality, plural, socially responsible, democratic and inclusive university.”

The Ministry of Education’s (MINED) response to this mess has been worse than the original nonsense. This time, the Minister herself (Ana Velazquez Cobiella) came forward and tweeted in true 19th century stylet that “People living outside of Cuba had no right to criticize us.” Delivering the ultimate blow: “We accept criticism from those who walk by our side and are willing to share our shortcomings and look for solutions.”

A very low comeback, of poor analytical quality and a “oxymoronic” tone. First of all, because Omara Ruiz (as well as dozens of other professors and students who have been kicked out of the classroom just because they think differently and express this) lives in Cuba, just as the thousands of others who have been coerced, silenced and hidden.

That’s to say, that if we are to go by the Minister’s words, these people should be reinstated in their positions and room should be given for debate about the country’s future, which belongs to each and every one of us. Secondly, because only Cuban officials’ dumb arrogance is the reason for Cuban emigres’ disdain.

Almost nobody does this in a world that is becoming increasingly international. Cuban officials should definitely not be doing this knowing that it is thanks to the remittances sent by the Cuban emigre community that most peoples’ consumption on the island continues. Thanks to them and to the exorbitant prices they pay for consular services, the country’s dilapidated finances remain afloat and the privileges they hold unlawfully, of a power that is as much authoritarian as it is illegitimate.

None of this is news because these coercive and repressive policies have always existed in Cuba’s academic world. However, I believe that an interesting rift is opening for intellectuals and academics to move towards a democratic republic that is socially just: as long as they report repression and coercion in Cuban universities whenever they can.


13 thoughts on “When Stupidity and Disgrace Take Over Cuban Universities

  • …something which they have done so successfully by isolating its people from the outside world for nearly 60 years, and by ensuring that “castrismo” and its lies will be the only political system that the Cubans will ever know..

  • Does anyone seriously expect the universities to be oases of free debate, in a country which is still effectively run by a dead megalomaniac?

  • Those are concepts which are simply too complex for many, especially those living outside of Cuba, to grasp!

  • Why is everyone always so “surprised” to learn that in Cuba, those running the schools and universities there must unconditionally support the concept of “Castrismo sin Castro”?
    Didn’t St. Fidel himself declare, “within the ‘Revolution’ everything, outside of the ‘Revolution’ nothing’?

  • The minister has sold her soul to the highest bidder which in this case is the government and in return she gets some power over the ordinary people of Cuba! Shame on her. This so repressive government will do anything that is required to stop the people from thinking for themselves!

  • Communist dictatorships are criminal regimes.
    Cuba is one.
    End of story.

  • Derrick substantiates that there is nothing so dangerous as a closed mind. He refers to his claimed past experiences as a university professor in Cuba in endeavoring to justify the purpose declared by Martha del Carmen Mesa Valenciano of imposing conformity of thought upon all university professors. He is however at least honest when stating:
    “I am one of those who think that these people should be shown that socialist ideology is better than theirs”
    There speaks a closed mind un-receptive to debate or discussion which are the very essence of intellectual progression.
    The Cuban vice-minister of Education is demanding:
    “100% on terms with official ideology” which is Stalinist interpretation of Marx/Engels/Lenin
    “a defender of our ideology” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ”
    “our political convictions” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ”
    “a revolutionary political activist in our Party” based on “”our” ” ” ” ” ”
    All those demands are based upon her determination that: “Being a university professor means defending our Comandante’s concept of revolution.” He is dead and his failed ideas moribund.
    Such demonstrated constipation of thought illustrates why Cuba is firmly locked into 19th century thought and action.
    As for Derrick’s excuse for the intolerance of individual thought demonstrated by the vice minister and supported by himself, that “the economic blockade (actually Derrick it is an embargo – but perhaps you are unable to accept the encyclopedia – whether it be Webster’s or the Oxford English) keeps the people (did you mean mass?) in difficult conditions which makes the manipulation of people very simple.” Is that the best that he can do to justify the repression of Cubans – including university professors? If so it is a poor endeavor. Pity should be reserved for the people of Cuba when a supposedly leading figure in education has nothing to offer but conformity of thought and action.
    A “fairer system” Derrick?

  • Nonsense. The act of boycotting a speaker is an act of free speech. What the writer misses is that you can boycott any speaker on any issue, except if you do so in support of BDS. Laws have been enacted making it presumptively anti-semitic to voice any opinion in favor of the BDS moment. If you do so as a professor you are subject to discipline. In Texas a teacher was fired for not signing a pledge never to support BDS. Students face similar charges, including possible expulsion.

    These draconian measures are hardly the work of socialists

  • Cuba is a communist country…n a very repressive,unforgiven,dogmatic system that is communism cannot exist unless it keeps anything considered a threat to the government from happening…the people in power n the system cannot survive w any form of democratic thought…get a grip….the only way Cuba might come out of this dark page in it’s history is to eliminate this horrible system n go back to being capitalist n w democracy ….Cuba was a happy n very prosperous country….it’s elegance n wealth unpararel in Latin America…did u know Cuba had color television after the USA had it? Did u know Cuba’s peso was worth more than the dollar on many occasions in the fifties? The country is trashed now…poor looking people everywhere,Havana in ruins n an oppressive regime that Is 100 times worse than any before n a living hell for it’s people unless u belong to the communist party which then gives u privileges no others can have….do u know Cubans are NOT ALLOWED into restaurants or tourist spots…only foreigners are….u tell me this is the equality the communist dogma preaches?? It’s a harsh n brutally repressive government that uses terror n death to maintain itself in power…..every block has a CDR house (Committee for Defense of the Revolution) n this person or persons who are communist party members job is to KEEP TABS ON THEIR BLOCK N ITS RESIDENTS N GOD HELP THEM IF THEY GET QUESTIONED N CANT PROVIDE A SATISFACTORY ANSWER(to them) CAUSE IF U CANT U ARE ARRESTED N TAKEN TO JAIL OR QUESTIONED W TORTURE IF NEED BE N MOST LIKELY SENT AWAY TO PRISON FOR A COUPLE YEARS….NICE….THIS IS HOW CUBANS LIVE…IN A PRISON…A HELL CREATED BY COMMUNISM OR IN ITS OTHER NAME SOCIALISM…SAME THING…BUT U SEE U START W SOCIALISM TO SELL IT TO PEOPLE N WHEN THEY GET IN POWER IT TURNS INTO COMMUNISM N ITS TOO LATE…UR A SLAVE….SO GET THIS FOR ONCE…NOTHING WILL EVER CHANGE IN CUBA…NOTHING WILL CHANGE UNLESS COMMUNISM IS DESTROYED N THOUGH I KNOW THIS WILL COME TO BE I WONDER HOW LONG IT WILL TAKE ITS PEOPLE N THE LAND TO RECOVER IS ANYONE’S GUESS…POOR BEAUTIFUL CUBA…I PRAY FOR YOU.

  • The socialists here in the US are in the same line as Cuba. They are the ones boycotting anybody speech in campus that dont agree with their socialists views. The left has taken over most of the universities in this country. Comunists professors are changing history studies and events for the advantage of their agendas. A warning to act soon!

  • When you are under attack you take extreme measures to maintain societal cohesion.

  • This is a complex issue, because this article is partly right. But on the other hand there is the fact that Cuba is practically alone on its way to building a fairer system. That is why they cannot allow internal divisions, the unit, in some cases “forced”, is what has allowed that island to maintain its social project throughout so many years and under severe economic sanctions. This article misrepresents these events, I was a university professor in Cuba, and there were many people in the university who criticized issues related to the government, and nothing happened. Even those criticisms were expressed in official meetings without any problem. Now, what is not allowed is that a student who is being given free education goes to the university to campaign against the government, you can go and study without problem and you can make public your way of thinking, in the adequate space, but what you can’t do is try to influence the rest of your classmates, much less use the free media that the university offers to do some kind of campaign. And that is what happens in most of these cases, of course since the opposition media always hide details, and I am not justifying what the government does, I am one of those who think that these people should be shown that socialist ideology is better than theirs, and allow them to continue their studies. But that is in an ideal case, in reality, Cuba could not afford that luxury, the economic blockade keeps the people in difficult conditions, which make the manipulation of people very simple. And what I say is not a story, it is a very old technique and expressed by US officials on several occasions, causing misery to a country, and through the mainstream media, to convince the people and the world, that the fault is of the “regime” or the social system of that country, and with that make the same people knock down their own government

  • Stupidity and repression since 1959.

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