Excuse me as I rally a non-arts cause your way, one that is directly related to my previous column, “Lights Off In Havana.” After writing “Lights Off,” I realized how perpetually unaware many Boston College students are of what goes on in Cuba. I’m here, once again, to enlighten you all—and illustrate why you should care.
Fidel Castro was the communist leader of Cuba until his death in 2016, and he was educated by the Jesuits. Belen Jesuit Preparatory School was founded in Cuba in 1854—but was forced to move to Miami in 1961 after Castro’s regime expelled the Jesuits from the island. What was once known as the “Palace of Education” became the Military Technical Institute.
BC was formed on the very basis of religious persecution: Its 1863 founding was to accommodate the Irish Catholic immigrants being rejected by Harvard University. It has recently been revealed that BC has started an exchange program to Cuba, which completely violates what the University stands for. Why would a university founded as a victim of religious persecution send its students to learn and grow in a country that is the world’s leader in not only religious persecution, but persecution of all types?
Unless you are from South Florida, or maybe New Jersey, you probably don’t know much about what goes on in Cuba. However, you might think that the old cars look cool on your Instagram or that the culture is enriching. BC educates its students to be informed world citizens. Its Core curriculum preaches globalization, and students are taught to value and respect diversity of opinion—so why it sends its students to become enlightened in a communist country baffles me. In Cuba, diversity of opinion doesn’t even exist. If you disagree with the regime, you’re a goner. There are more than 1 million goners outside of Cuba today.
Racism is still a very prevalent discussion on the island. In the latter half of the 20th century, gays were forced into concentration camps along with others who were deemed unorthodox by the Castro regime. In 2003, 75 objectors of the regime, including journalists, librarians, and democracy and human rights activists, were imprisoned. The Castro regime arranged this crackdown with the U.S. invasion of Iraq to minimize the publicity, and the prisoners were eventually released and exiled to Spain in 2010. This illustrates that all sorts of dissent is punished.
One of the most beautiful things about our country is we have the freedom to protest the government. Right now, the majority of the country disagrees with the current governmental situation—and we take it for granted. There are 22 Spanish-speaking countries in the world. There is absolutely no need for American students to be studying at the University of Havana. My Spanish teacher last year at the University of Miami told us the story of why she came to the United States. She entered college in Cuba with hopes of studying psychology and medicine. However, the education system is fully subsidized by the Cuban government, which gives them the power to control what students study. The government decided there were not enough teachers in the country and forced her to major in education. She said she hated it, and she never got to study psychology. Another common (although slowly dwindling) practice at Cuban Universities is to compel men to complete a certain level of military training or to work in the fields. Of course, a student studying abroad in Cuba doesn’t need to fulfill the requirements, but attending the University of Havana for a semester gives the government more power to keep these practices alive.
When the government is doing well, the Cuban people suffer the most. Everything in the country is contrary to what Americans hold to be true: Instead of a minimum wage there is a maximum wage (the reason why a cab driver makes more than a doctor), the majority of the country outside tourist districts lives in third-world conditions, and arbitrary imprisonment, heavy censorship, and regular misconducts in the realm of human rights are commonplace.
At BC, discussion is essential. Students are encouraged to vocalize their opinions in class, and cultural organizations collaborate on events to form a deeper understanding of each other. We wouldn’t be able to engage in this essential form of communication if it wasn’t for the First Amendment. Without freedom of speech or freedom of the press, I couldn’t be writing this article. Let this sink in—if I lived in Cuba, I could easily be thrown in jail for writing this very article.
So let’s go back to the 1956 Chevy Bel Air that you like. Sure, it’s vibrant, it’s vintage, it’s artsy. It’s also a painful reminder of a horrifying reality. Let’s see how excited you’d be if I took the XM radio out of your 2016 Benz. I urge the BC community to think twice before signing up for an exchange program in Cuba. Traveling to Cuba, no matter the reason, often leaves Cuban citizens worse off since you are effectively financially supporting their communist government.
So one last time, I’ll say it louder for the people in the back: Other countries speak Spanish, vibrant cultures exist everywhere, and there are hundreds of other Caribbean islands with beautiful beaches. Go study abroad there instead.
Featured Image by Anna Tierney / Graphics Editor