Miércoles, 19 de Junio de 2019
Última actualización: 01:43 CEST
Cuba-US Relations

The surveilled university

American students at the University of Havana. (MIAMI HERALD)

Last week several photos of American students with their professors appeared on the social networks in Havana. The images would not have drawn too much attention if it were not due to the fact that the situation demands some wariness regarding the consumption of the regime's iconography: the students were seen walking through the halls of the Museum of the Revolution, in front of photos of Fidel Castro and grotesque caricatures of American presidents. Their presence was also noteworthy because in recent months there have been expulsions of students and professors from Cuban universities, without many members of American academia voicing any protest.

Considerable controversy has surrounded the idea of ​​academic exchange travel to countries that are not free. There is already an American embassy in Havana, but relations are still far from normal, principally because the Americans' demands for fundamental rights in Cuba continue to be flouted by Havana. Following the rise of Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008, it seemed that the possibility of systematic student travel had finally been established, and several universities even created a position specifically to manage these exchanges.

The question that many ask is whether public funds should be used to organize trips whose itineraries, apparently approved at high levels of the Cuban Government, include visits to sites "of historical and social interest" (we already know what this means and the particular roadmap to be followed), a route on which certain points on the strategic horizon of tropical totalitarianism occupy a privileged place: if there are museums like that of the Revolution full of photos of a Caribbean tyrant, why not the family sanctuary in Birán (the Castros birthplace), Fidel’s stone at the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, and the Museum of the Ministry of the Interior, so well portrayed by Antonio José Ponte in La fiesta vigilada?

The Cuban writer and former political prisoner Rafael Saumell, who serves as a professor at Sam Houston State University in Texas, appreciates ​​the academic freedom that exists in the vast majority of Western universities, but notes that he would never dedicate himself to such a job. "Given the political pedigree of a few colleagues, there is always the risk of using funds for indoctrination. The apologists for diversity tend to be timorous in their censure of the expulsions of professors and students who do not follow the Party line," he says.

It turns out that the aims of these trips could easily be questioned. After all, the students could improve their Spanish and cultural knowledge with less of an effort and sacrifice in the most Mexican-influenced neighborhoods of Austin, Phoenix or Los Angeles. What does the exhibition of a tank of the Rebel Army, a monument to Che Guevara, or a visit to an independent dairy in Matanzas have to do with the use of the subjunctive? Or is it a specific type of Spanish, one that spurns its richest rules and elements, in favor of the impoverished language found in the likes of Granma? At what point did American universities, with the magnanimous (and even eager) assent of deans and professors, decide that a lesson in normalization was in order, but only while tiptoeing around their counterparts' recurrent breaches of standards and violations of freedoms?

If American public universities do not know that in Cuba the expulsion of students and professors who are not sympathetic to the regime is a common practice, at least it could be said that they are uninformed. But if they do know it, but still insist on signing collaboration agreements with these institutions, they should expect revulsion and criticism for using taxpayer funds to subject students to an agenda so distant from a legitimate "cultural exchange" and so subservient to the Cuban Government's political machinations.

Obama is history. Time may be running out on his policy of normalization, while the regime erected by the Castros still stands, and is hardly moving in the direction of open societies. We do not yet know whether the Trump Administration will cancel or restrict these contacts. What we can be sure of is that, if it does, American universities will demand, vociferously and through every channel, their right to these travel programs, and the uproar will only be comparable to their silence and reticence to aid those subjected to the severe rigors of the other university... the surveilled one.