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!

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