Cuban Youth From US ‘World Learning’ Course Find Themselves Amid Slogans
And Fear / 14ymedio, Mario Penton
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 1 October 2016 — Their names are barely
known, but now they find themselves in the middle of acts of political
reaffirmation and facing police interrogations. They are young people
between the ages of 16 and 18, high school and polytechnic students who
participated in the World Learning program by attending a summer course
in the United States. Today their lives pass amid slogans and fears.
On condition of anonymity, this newspaper contacted several of the young
people who spent four weeks in the program in the United States. None
wanted to reveal their identity, out of fear, although at this point the
people they fear know who they are.
“What did you do there. What did they say to you? What did they want you
to do when you returned to Cuba? Who paid for your trip?” These are some
of the questions that the Department of Technical Investigations (DTI)
from the National Police have repeated to many of them in recent months.
The young people went for the joy of knowing another country and
interacting with teenagers from other parts of the world, only to be
cited by the police on their return to Cuba. In these meetings they were
also warned that they should not talk to the press nor with anyone else
about this matter.
According to the teens, the worst was not the interrogations, but being
compelled to participate in political events to repudiate the US
organization. In their own schools and amid the shouts of revolutionary
reaffirmation, they constantly have their hearts in their mouths for
fear of being singled out and repudiated.
The work of the DTI was not the end of it, also involved are the
Secondary Students Federation (FEEM) and the Young Communists Union
(UJC). In morning assemblies and meetings, the leadership of both
organizations explained to the young people “the true intentions” of the
summer courses and warned them they should reject World Learning if they
don’t want to be considered counterrevolutionaries, and in the worst
case, lose their chances for higher education and a career.
The president of the FEEM, Suzanne Santiesteban, went a step further and
cataloged the rallies against World Learning as “acts of repudiation” in
the style of those traditionally made against activists and opposition
on the island. The young woman called for extending these actions to
schools in Havana, and the “rest of the country.”
However, after the hubbub of public events they have also been subject
to pressures in the classroom. “I tried to read what was written to show
that there was nothing subversive in those classes, but they gave me a
paper with things that I didn’t even know what they meant and forced me
to read it out loud in front of everyone,” says one of the young people
who traveled to the United States between 2015 and 2016.
“In this program we never talked politics and we were never forced to do
anything we didn’t want to do,” he told 14ymedio .
World Learning organized English classes for the Cuban students, along
with training in leadership skills such as public speaking, network
building and skills a leader can use to connect with others and identify
with the aspirations of their collective.
In a statement from the president of the organization, Carol Jenkins,
sent to Martí Noticias, she stated that “The program was designed to
help students form personal ties between high school students in
the United States and Cuba. During the two years, fewer than 100 Cuban
teenagers participated in the program in the United States, for one
month. They were divided into groups and traveled to communities in
Virginia, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Washington, Oregon, and Missouri.”
Jenkins added, “While they were in the communities that hosted them,
they volunteered with young Americans in activities such as local food
banks, cleaning parks in collaboration with recycling centers, and
reading books to young children in youth centers.”
“What they taught us was how to use the internet and things we could do
with the technology. But it was never anything violent or anything
having to do with politics,” emphasizes the uneasy student.
Another teenager who traveled to the US spoke about the four weeks spent
there. “The only thing I regret is not having had the opportunity to
stay. Now I realize it was a mistake to come back here,” he says.
In addition to language classes they were told about the history of the
United States and taken to historical sites in Washington and other
states. They cooperated in the work and lived in the home of a family
that welcomed them as a member.
“What’s subversive about that? I still don’t understand,” he says.
Another of his peers is more radical in his statements:
“Me? A traitor? Why? For going to some summer classes with other people
from all over the world? Betrayal is making the whole country a prison.
Betrayal is everyone who has collaborated on the absurd current system
of my country.”
Another of the students involved in the projects recalls, with an almost
childlike tone, that when he was in the United States they took him to
eat in a restaurant with Cuban food and always considered his opinion.
“They were educated (the teachers). They treated us with a lot of
respect, we engaged in participation games to get to know each other,
and we became like siblings. They did anonymous surveys to find out what
we thought about the program and took our opinions into account in
adapting the program so we were more at ease. They hosted us in places
and hotels comfortable for young people, they didn’t overwhelm us, and
they were concerned about our wellbeing the whole time,” the young man said.
The Cuban government has undertaken a campaign almost like the one that
demanded the “liberation” of the child rafter Elian Gonzalez, or the
release of the five spies serving prison sentences in the United States.
Classroom by classroom and school by school the young people have been
called to participate in acts of repudiation and of “revolutionary
As a part of the government’s campaign, a special edition of the
Roundtable TV show was held with Alejandro Sánchez as a guest, one of
the youths who participated in the courses.
The young man explained on camera how the summer school was
developed. According to Sánchez, the objective of the program is to
foment civil society on the island (during the first session, in 2015,
34 young people participated). “Even many of us participating in the
program expressed our concern about the growing politicization,” he said.
Sánchez detailed the “subversive” topics they were taught in the United
States, including how democracy works, what life is like in that country
and what human rights are.
During the first days of the program, which passed in a villa in
Virginia, Sánchez considered it suspicious that, “We could not post
pictures or videos of any of the activities we were doing in the
program, under the pretext of safeguarding our security and avoiding
repression once we returned to our country.”
For the Cuban Government the curriculum seeks to “capture” young people
to fabricate “false leadership” and implement change on the island. The
main accusation is that World Learning receives funding from USAID.
This newspaper tried to contact one of the US teachers who is a part of
the course and who deals, in particular, with the graduates, but the
teacher said he was not authorized to give statements to the press.
Source: Cuban Youth From US ‘World Learning’ Course Find Themselves Amid
Slogans And Fear / 14ymedio, Mario Penton – Translating Cuba –