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Access to food among issues affecting students in Cuba

Access to food among issues affecting students in Cuba
Ellsworth John, the ambassador of St Vincent and the Grenadines to Cuba

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by Bria King

Access to food supplies is just one of several issues that Vincentian students in Cuba are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also, the students sometimes do not understand the role of the Embassy of St Vincent and the Grenadines in Cuba.

These are some of the issues that have come to the fore following the recent publication of two opinion pieces on the plight of students in Cuba, and these and other issues were discussed at a meeting of parents of students studying in Cuba with government officials last Sunday.

Ellsworth John, the ambassador of St Vincent and the Grenadines to Cuba wrote an opinion piece, published in the May 15 edition of SEARCHLIGHT, in which he outlined the situation for students in Cuba.

However, another opinion piece, supposedly written by a student surfaced on social media platforms over the weekend in which the author expressed disappointment with John’s article, describing it as “utter nonsense”.

One student, who spoke to SEARCHLIGHT on the condition of anonymity said that students are in different provinces in Cuba and so the experience for each individual is not the same.

“…The most common is that it is difficult to get food supplies,” she said.

She said that students in Cuba receive three meals per day from the Government there.

“It is not enough for the students…we understand that they too have issues in getting food. It’s not just the foreigners.

It’s the Cubans too…but these are big persons that have to study and it is difficult sometimes…,” the student said.

The student, in giving a personal account of what she has experienced, said that a driver refused to carry her because of the COVID-19 pandemic and because she is a foreigner.

While this has been her experience, the scholar said that others have complained about the scarcity of other items including oil, soap, detergent and other hygiene products.

“It’s not just food, it’s everything,” she said.

And persons are worried that the situation could worsen as time goes by.

In his article, John said that the Cuban government is providing three meals per day to the student population which includes over 2000 foreign students.

The ambassador also noted that Guyana has sent care packages to their students in Cuba, which some Vincentian students have applauded as an indication that their government cares about the wellbeing of their students, but implies that SVG’s government doesn’t care.

“This is simply not true and the government has indicated that if the parents are interested and are able to arrange for their children to receive the items that usually accompany them when they travel from home, we will facilitate. It shows that parents are willing to make a financial sacrifice at a time when the government in St Vincent and the Grenadines is maintaining measures to protect Vincentians while minimizing the economic downturn,” he wrote.

He said however, that students must be careful to not “flaunt excesses that the Cuban counterparts don’t have access to”.
The author of the second opinion piece dissected John’s article, highlighting their issues with some of the points raised by the ambassador.

“The Service Commission seems more like the embassy than the embassy itself. Is it possible to even ask for someone else? Most people tend to believe he serves no purpose full stop. I guess we’ll have to fight for ourselves. It’s nothing new to us… We are highly disappointed,” the author wrote.

John, in a ZOOM meeting on Sunday, May 17, with parents of students studying in Cuba and other local government officials, outlined the role of the Embassy in Cuba.

He described that role as being very broad in terms of the relationship between both countries as it relates to issues of trade, agriculture, foreign affairs, tourism and other issues that may be mutually beneficial.

The ambassador said that SVG has been able to receive many things as a result of that relationship and “our role is to try and maintain that relationship to the best of our abilities”.

“On some issues, I have to make a value judgment sometimes, whether this is something worth fighting or whether you can succeed in picking a fight on a particular issue and I think sometimes some of the students don’t understand that,” John said.

He added that the students are young “and I think its very important that sometimes their temper, the public statements that they make, it doesn’t help in the long run in terms of what we are able to do and what we are able to get on their behalf”.

A student studying in Cuba said that others often publish things on social media, which is sometimes portrayed as the views of all Vincentian students studying in Cuba.

But she said this was not so and agrees with the ambassador in this regard.

However, the student said John’s opinion piece lacked depth as it was not truly representative of the issues that all students face, particularly since not all students choose to complain about the various issues they face.

Earlier discussions involved the possibility of students in Cuba chartering a flight to bring them home to SVG. Cuba however, has since decided to reopen universities.

And it was decided that students will remain in Cuba.

Parents of some students are discussing whether it is feasible to charter Caribbean Airlines to carry cargo as a form of relied for students, which will cost well over US$30,000.

SVG’s Government is expected to provide monetary relief in the sum of EC$1500 to students in Cuba.

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