|Yenaivis Fuentes, right, speaks with high school students April 9 at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C.|
It is a victory for academic freedom, he said. It took letters of invitation from more than 115 professors from colleges and universities around the country to win the visas for this exchange. This is the first such visit by Cuban students to the United States since 2001.
Fuentes, 23, and Ramos, 30, both leaders of the Cuban Federation of University Students (FEU) are on a one-month speaking tour of U.S. campuses. Fuentes is a sixth-year medical student from Guantánamo, Cuba, and National Public Health Education Coordinator for the FEU. Ramos is a third-year resident in surgery from Manzanillo, Cuba.
Their U.S. visit began March 21 and has already taken them to Atlanta; Twin Cities, Minnesota; and Chicago.
In their many meetings here Fuentes and Ramos made brief presentations about the origins of Cubas socialist revolution in 1959. Recounting the battle for independence from Spain in the 19th century, they described what it meant for Cuba to be dominated by U.S. imperialism for the first half of the 20th century.
There was plenty of time at all the meetings for questions and comments from students.
What about those who suffered as a result of the revolution? asked a student at a University of Maryland meeting April 8 attended by 110 students, faculty, and others. He explained that his grandfather, who owned land and cattle in Cuba, lost his holdings after the revolution.
The revolutionary government didnt drive out people like your grandfather, Ramos said. They could have stayed. They had the opportunity to help build the country. They had the opportunity to continue to work the land; to make money from it. If they were a factory owner, they could stay and work, and if they had the skills, they could even be the director of the factory. But what they could not continue doing was exploiting others.
Land was distributed to peasants, Ramos said, pointing to the sweeping land reform in Cuba in the early years of the revolution through which millions of acres of the largest landed estates were expropriated and titles issued to some 100,000 landless peasants.
Doctors in Cuba get paid less than people who drive cabs for tourists, another student said. Do you feel that the Cuban government has betrayed you by paying so little?
I didnt become a doctor to have pockets full of money, Ramos answered. For doctors in Cuba, our main concern is helping patients. We dont have pockets full of money but we have enough to live; to have clothes, food, a place to sleep. His comments drew applause.
Another student asked the Cuban visitors what could be done to help improve the education system in the United States.
In Cuba after the revolution, thousands of young students went out into the countryside to teach people how to read, Fuentes said. I dont have the answer for how you can improve the education system in your country. But in Cuba we made a socialist revolution.
The Cuban students were welcomed to the University of Maryland by Dr. Ronald Zeigler, director of the Nyumburu Cultural Center, which has served as the organizing center for student groups and faculty sponsoring the visit for the past eight months. A team of four student volunteers handled translation for the meeting.
Howard School of Law
After speaking at American University on April 5, the Cuban students visited the Howard School of Law for a luncheon and discussion with faculty and students hosted by Kurt Schmoke, dean of the law school, and La Alianza, the organization of Spanish-speaking law students on that campus. Dean Schmoke told Ramos and Fuentes that the law school had also sponsored a well-attended meeting about the Cuban Five several years earlier. The five Cubans he was referring to were framed up by the U.S. government and have been in jail for 11 years for monitoring groups in the United States who were carrying out violent acts against Cuba.
Ramos and Fuentes addressed a broadly sponsored evening meeting at Howard University April 7 that drew some 100 students and faculty from that historically Black college, as well as workers and activists from around the city.
Several faculty members and representatives of student organizations worked together for several months prior to the event, planning every aspect of the visit from publicity to fund-raising to translation of the meeting. Financial contributions from several departments and the undergraduate student government at Howard made the visit possible.
I liked the way the students answered questions, said Symone Wilson, 20, secretary of the Cimarrones, a student organization at Howard, at the reception following meeting. They didnt talk around the questions. They talked from the heart.
During their stop in Washington, Ramos and Fuentes addressed a meeting of 50 high school students at the Duke Ellington School of Fine Arts. Jacqueline Maggi, a Cuban artist who teaches visual art at the school, invited them.
Maggi had decorated the room with posters and images from Cuba and the presentation began with a slide show accompanied by Cuban music.
In Cuba we have established cultural centers in every neighborhood to ensure that people have access to art, music, theater, Fuentes told the students. There are art schools, much like this one, in every province.
Is Cuba still a Communist country? one student asked. Another wanted to know who Fidel Castro is.
Fidel Castro is our leader, Fuentes said. Much like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King are your leaders.
She pointed to a painting on the wall of Ernesto Che Guevara and a portrait of Cuban national hero José Martí. For us he is like Che, the heroic guerrilla fighter, or Martí, the hero of our national independence struggle.
The meeting ended with more Cuban music and a graceful example from the visitors of Cuban salsa dancing.
This was very informational. Especially about things you never hear about Cuba, said Maurice Holden, a student at the high school. The U.S. government makes Cuba seem to be the worst place ever. But these students showed us so much about Cuba that you never see.
On April 9 a well-attended reception at the Cuban Interests Section gave sponsoring faculty and students from five campuses a chance to meet each other and find out how all the meetings went. Some have begun a discussion of follow-up activities to build on the success of the tour.
Chris Hoeppner and Omari Musa contributed to this article.
Cuban students visit training hospital
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