Injustice Causing Hardships for Students
At a press conference earlier this week, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves addressed a matter that has become a subject of much discussion in the media in recent times – the inconveniences currently being experienced by Caribbean students in Cuba.
That situation has arisen because of tremendous difficulties facing the Cuban people as a result of the tightening of sanctions against Cuba by the government of the United States (US). It is almost 60 years since the US imposed an embargo against Cuba and in spite of repeated near-unanimous votes in the United Nations (UN) for an end to this embargo, not only has it remained in place but in recent times the Trump administration has taken steps to tighten it.
Among the recent measures are sanctions being taken against third countries and even individual private companies, for trading with Cuba. Thus, huge fines are being imposed on shipping companies if their vessels transport fuel from Venezuela to Cuba under private commercial contractual relations. Cruise lines have been banned from visiting Cuban ports and even American Airlines now faces the wrath of the US government for relations with Cuba.
All this, and denying banks with US connections the right to engage in financial transactions with Cuba, has brought about increasing difficulties to the Cuban people and persons working and studying there. There is an acute shortage of fuel creating difficulties not only in transportation but in many other economic activities. Our students, like their Cuban counterparts and the entire Cuban people are affected.
There are those among us who either because they have agendas of their own, or are ill-informed, have been trying to use these difficulties to cast aspersions on the Cuban scholarship programme and even to advocate a recall of our students from Cuba. It is tantamount to placing the blame for the temporary difficulties on Cuba, not on those who are trying to strangle it in contravention of UN resolutions and international principles; the victim gets the blame.
Some had implied that by not bringing Vincentian students home, the authorities here are not concerned. The hardships our students face are no different to those facing students from all over the world currently studying free of cost in a small developing nation.
It must be understood that students pursuing courses abroad are subject to all kinds of challenges. In the sixties and seventies those studying at North American universities had to endure racism and discrimination leading to confrontations such as those at Sir George William University in Canada in 1969. Even at our own UWI campuses students have experienced problems too. One would recall that some Vincentian students even had to return home due to economic difficulties.
It is unfortunate that there are those among us who refuse to understand the extent of Cuban generosity in awarding scholarships and building up our professional core. Much sacrifice is involved and we all should be grateful for this tremendous contribution towards our human development.
It is not Cuba to be blamed, whatever are our views on that country’s political system but unjust sanctions which not only affect Cuba but smaller and less powerful nations like ours. That is the injustice at the heart of the current hardships.