Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The education system in Cuba: curriculum politicized, dissent punished, and systemic censorship

Time to set the record straight on education in Cuba 
Students entering the University of Havana

Amnesty Global Insights on August 28, 2017 reported on how the internet is controlled and censored in Cuba, but then makes an assertion on the Cuban education system that many Cubans familiar with what existed before and after the Castro Revolution of 1959 would dispute and that is that the current dictatorship has had "achievements in education" citing that "UNESCO and UNICEF have commended Cuba’s educational achievements. Students from across the Caribbean, particularly medical students, graduate from its universities yearly." The Castro regime's diplomats have been very active in both UN organizations and impacted on their reporting. Meanwhile foreign students who studied in Cuba have not been sufficiently prepared to pass their medical license exams. In Pakistan, Cuban trained doctors are demanding an exemption from medical licensing exams to practice medicine there.

The Slovak-based People in Peril conducted a study between 2005 and 2006 that generated a 77 page analysis, What is the future of education in Cuba?,  that a decade a go found an educational system in ruins . Eliska Slavikova of People in Peril interviewed by El Nuevo Herald on October 23, 2007 observed ''Cuban education is destroyed, with grave problems like the deterioration of the schools, the predominance of ideology over teaching  and the bad preparation of teachers.'' The study made the following findings:
• There's been a ''pronounced'' departure of teachers to other jobs because of low salaries and the lack of social recognition.
• Many teachers also left their jobs because of the government's growing ideological pressures. The primary objective of education is the formation of future revolutionary communists.
• The great majority of schools lack the equipment and installations needed to provide a good education.
• High school graduates have been put to teach after only an eight-month special course. But much of the teaching now is done through educational TV channels.
A later analyses of Cuba's educational system in 2008 and more recently in 2015 arrived at the same conclusions on lack of quality, resources and continued politicization of the curriculum. Although Amnesty International mentions "people who have been expelled from university for accessing 'unapproved' information" there is no mention of students expelled and professors fired for their political views or familial ties to Cuban dissidents.

Clockwise: Harold Cepero, Sayli Navarro, David Mauri, Fếlix Yuniel, Karla Pérez,
Meanwhile at the University of Miami in the midst of a controversy where the Institute of Cuban and Cuban American Studies was shut down, all staff fired, and the director, Professor Jaime Suchlicki, apparently forced out on August 15, 2017 because the new president of the University of Miami Julio Frenk wanted to go in a different direction which involved engaging the Castro regime and shutting down a center of academic inquiry. The controversy led UM president Frenk to backpedal and pledge that ICCAS would be reopened and that there would be no institutional relationship with the Castro regime, although they already do exist in other departments.

Inside Higher Education in an article titled "A U.S. University Cuts Itself off From Cuba" quotes "Caleb Everett, a professor and the chair of the anthropology department" who said that  "we understand the dilemma that Frenk is facing in this kind of case where he has a very vocal minority that understandably has strong opinions on the matter. Our strong belief is that to move forward with Cuba from an academic perspective we need collaborative efforts."

This ignores that collaboration with the Cuban government has led in other universities with Cuban Studies self censoring to maintain the relationship with the dictatorship to have access the island compromising academic inquiry. Furthermore students have been targets of espionage and targeted for recruitment by Castro's intelligence service.

Dr. Carlos & Elsa Alvarez: Castro spies at FIU
Florida International University's Cuban Research Institute has had such a "collaborative" relationship in the past that generated bad press for the school. FIU Psychology professor Carlos Alvarez who was the associate professor for educational leadership and policy studies, and his wife Elsa Alvarez, counselor for the psychological services department at Florida International University were arrested by the FBI on January 6, 2006. Professor Alvarez conducted trips to Cuba with young professionals in the late 1990s in what was billed a conflict resolution project.  Carlos Alvarez was sentenced to five years in prison and Elsa Alvarez to three years in prison on February 28, 2007 for conspiring to act as unregistered Cuban agents spying on FIU students.

Casa Bacardi shut down at the University of Miami
UM Professor Everett would like to frame this discussion as a "vocal minority" in the community with "strong opinions" in order to not address the substance of the irregular manner in which ICCAS was shut down and the questions of academic freedom that were raised in the subsequent dialogue along with questions about the complete lack of academic freedom in Cuba and its links to the Cuban dictatorship's spying apparatus. At a time when American and Canadian diplomats have suffered hearing loss and brain damage in Cuba, due either to an attack or espionage gone wrong, these questions have new and urgent relevance as does the need for UM's the Institute of Cuban and Cuban American Studies to maintain its independence and ability to debunk the Castro regime's false narrative with serious scholarship. Both Amnesty International and Professor Everett should know better and not repeat the false narrative propagated by the Castro regime.



  1. The analysis that you quoted as being from 2014 was published at the 2008 conference of the ASCE. You also didn't mention instances where school students in Cuba have been expelled for writing essays denouncing Fidel Castro for breaking up families.

    1. Thank you for spotting the error and it has been corrected. Could you please provide me with sources on students expelled for writing essays denouncing Castro for breaking up families? There is plenty more on the history of denying education for political reasons and I won't pretend to provide a comprehensive overview.