Not Everyone in Cuba Has the Right to Study

By Veronica Vega

Kabir (l) back in 10th grade.

HAVANA TIMES — This title isn’t merely a journalistic hook; it’s the conclusion drawn by the parents of two teenagers after fruitless dialogue with the current Director of Education in the Municipality of East Havana. This is because our children, Kabir and Sebastian, have been denied access to their own school day after day for almost a month.

The reason? They haven’t accepted getting their hair cut in compliance with the aesthetic criteria of the principal of Lazaro Peña High School (in the Alamar neighborhood), who is backed by dress code regulations issued by the current Minister of Education.

According to the principal’s exact words: “Aesthetics are even more important than dignity”!

This was her response when we said that our kids chose to be dignified and self-respecting, and to not submit out of fear to a sexist (and unconstitutional) regulation, but instead defend their right not to be discriminated against (pointing out that female students may indeed wear their hair as they please).

The regulation requires one extra rule for male students: That they must be “properly groomed and shaven.”

The term “properly” is relative and doesn’t appear in any legal article. This doesn’t seem to matter much to education officials, who (according to what the principal herself said) have received the specific definition of “properly” through verbal instructions in staff meetings.

It has been defined as a “military cut,” even though the dress code doesn’t specify the maximum length for these poor boys’ hair, to whom nature seems to have caused serious damage by giving them the gift of hair that grows.

Among the arguments we raised as the parents of these adolescents was the following quote from the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 28, Paragraph 2), of which Cuba is a signatory (unreserved) since 1991: “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity and in conformity with the present Convention.”

In addition, a letter signed by the four parents, with the appropriate legal references, was also presented at the Council of State and sent to the official Cubadebate website.

This letter included a citation from the Cuban Constitution (Article 42 from Chapter 6 on “Equality”) stating that “Discrimination because of race, skin color, sex, national origin, religious beliefs and any other form of discrimination harmful to human dignity is forbidden and will be punished by law. The institutions of the state [must] educate everyone from the earliest possible age in the principle of equality among human beings.”

Our letter also pointed to Article 43 of the constitution, which states “The state consecrates the right achieved by the Revolution that all citizens, regardless of race, skin color, sex, religious belief, national origin and any situation that may be harmful to human dignity:
– have a right to education at all national educational institutions, ranging from elementary schools to the universities, which are the same for all.”

While institutional inertia supports (illegal) prejudice, two children who want to get through this situation are being frustrated in their intentions and in exercising their legitimate rights. They are publicly humiliated every morning at the school where they are officially enrolled.

Nonetheless, the school’s administration, by order of the Ministry of Education, has resorted to the blatant maneuver of threatening to expel them under the pretext of “unexcused absences,” when these absences are the direct responsibility of the school itself.

The head of education for the municipality, who said she was “seriously concerned that these children are missing school,” asked to meet with them alone and during that dialogue (where she even wrote down their responses) she asked them what they considered more important: “their studies or their hair.”

No institution has the authority to compel citizens to choose between two fundamental rights, in this case a choice between studying and equality. The situation is aggravated by the fact that the prolonged stress undergone by the two children is causing them emotional and physical harm (insomnia, anxiety, anorexia, digestive disorders, insecurity…).

This school year, where they should be attending their eleventh grade classes, they weren’t able to enter the building for even a single day. They don’t know their current homerooms and weren’t even allowed to have study materials.

The administration of Lazaro Peña High School is concerned both with the uniformity of the heads of its male students, especially when there’s an inspection, and with the scandalous nature of any breach of this “aesthetic” on the part of long-haired students.

Yet it doesn’t seem to realize that it’s much more scandalous to deprive two children of their unrestricted right to study, a right which is so proudly publicized and acclaimed by our government.

This is a right that isn’t even denied of prisoners.

Of course we will go to UNICEF and to any institution or media to protest this injustice. We’re sure that for our children, this struggle for their rights is much more educational than their docile and hypocritical sexist compliance with a rule that few people seem willing to question (perhaps they’re overwhelmed by the many other difficulties of day-to-day survival).

But are we surviving? Or are we merely languishing, ossifying under the weight of an ultraconservative and exclusive society where we never enjoy “full freedom and equality” – no matter how often Fidel’s “Concept of Revolution*” is beautifully framed and hung on the walls of schools and offices in Cuba.

(*) Fidel’s “Concept of Revolution”:

“Revolution means to have a sense of history;
it’s changing everything that must be changed;
it’s full equality and freedom;
it’s being treated and treating others like human beings;
it’s achieving emancipation by ourselves and through our own efforts;
it’s challenging powerful dominant forces from within and without the social and national milieu;
it’s defending the values in which we believe at the cost of any sacrifice;
it’s modesty, selflessness, altruism, solidarity and heroism;
it’s fighting with courage, intelligence and realism;
it’s never lying or violating ethical principles;
it’s a profound conviction that there’s no power in the world that can crush the power of truth and ideas.
Revolution means unity;
it’s independence,
it’s fighting for our dreams of justice for Cuba and for the world, which is the foundation of our patriotism, our socialism and our internationalism”

See the related article “Why So Much of a Fuss

5 thoughts on “Not Everyone in Cuba Has the Right to Study

  • I believe the word is “totalitarian” and yep! that would be the government of Cuba.

  • Things have changed in Cuba indeed. In my day (back in the 70s), the director of the school used to walk around with a pair of scissors in his pocket. Said scissors were used to chop both dreadlocks on boys and skirt hems on girls (mini-mini skirts back then, remember?). Today, they keep them out, back them, they used to shave your head.

  • I think those who impose a particular length in the haircut (or as in Iran clothing), and then only for one gender, are exponents of an extremely right-wing view of the world.

  • Veronica:

    No se pueden confundir derechos con disciplina. Sustentas bien los derechos, pero debes tambien sustentar la disciplina. Por demás tu título es sugestivo y manipulador. Todos tienen el derecho a la educación en Cuba, SI con mayúscula, y además, hay que respetar las normas que, por demás, no afectan la dignidad humana. Un pelado no afecta la dignidad humana, no así el castigo físico o verbal, por ejemplo. No debes exagerar Verónica, como creo que haces a traves de todo tu artículo. Si no hay normas de convivencia, nos vamos a la anarquía.

  • It looks to me that school system in Cuba has all problems solved since the only concern is this haircut

Comments are closed.