By Vincy Student In Cuba
I recently received a link to the iWitness News article “US blockade costs Cuba billions” and I was very pleased to find mention of the large foreign student population here. As a scholarship recipient — and I’m sure the generations of graduates before me as well as my peers would agree — we will forever be grateful to Cuba for awarding us this opportunity; an opportunity that we would more than likely not have been able to afford otherwise. There are many countries throughout the world that can afford to provide similar opportunities and choose not to. Cuba is by no means a rich country and yet over the years they have and continue to provide scholarships to students from around the world. I say this to say, we will never forget or be ungrateful for what Cuba has done for us. Hasta la victoria siempre!
That being said, being a local news provider, I felt that your article should have spoken a bit more about the hardships we as a student population are facing here in Cuba. We all see and hear that Cuba has a fuel shortage and is suffering an economic crisis. But what does that really mean? What are the hardships that you referred to? How exactly is it impacting us? I’d like to give your readers some insight on that.
The economic situation in Cuba has been deteriorating for quite some time and, sadly, continues to worsen, and Cuba has now entered what is known as the second “special period”. This “period” affects the availability and prices of food products throughout the island. These shortages, which not only affect the locals, have a great deal of reverberations on the foreign demographic, most notably those of us studying, as we purchase goods in local supermarkets, which are currently understocked and even empty.
Over the last few months, these scarcities have encompassed many basic amenities including vital goods such as meats, flour, salt, oil, milk and hygiene products such as soaps, toilet paper and toothpaste. When products do become available, the students are not privy to this information and in the event that such information is made available to us, neither our schedules nor the hordes of locals outside the establishments avail us the opportunity to purchase goods. Sometimes when trying to purchase products we are told that they are for the Cuban people and not for foreigners.
As no solution has been found to compensate for Venezuela’s decreased oil supply to Cuba, the country has been forced to take measures to ration fuel consumption islandwide. In a Sept. 9 press release from the Food Industry Enterprise Group (Grupo Empresarial de la Industria Alimentaria) stated that because no diesel had been provided to them since Sept. 5, they had been forced to cease the production and transport the majority of the basic food supply which includes, but is not limited to, milk, meat products, pasta, coffee, bread, vegetables, frozen food, juices and flour. This has had a direct impact on the universities that have cut portion sizes and recently have not been able to provide meat with meals. A typical meal now comprises of rice with beans or cucumber. These meals are not sufficient for the physical and mental demands of our studies.
The shortage of fuel has caused some provinces to implement scheduled power outages. The residence halls of the universities are without power from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (which varies depending on location). The lecture halls at the hospitals, where we are given classes in groups of more than 100 students, are now saunas, where we sit for an hour or more. All government offices and businesses have to close by 5 p.m. and supermarkets at 6 p.m.
These scheduled power outages have caused frozen foods, which are already scarcely available, in the supermarkets to spoil and this is also why the university is unable to serve meat, as they have no means to store it. The bank has also implemented a new schedule, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and they have closed the majority of ATMs that are not at bank locations. Those ATMs now only operate during banking hours and rarely have connections to process VISA transactions.
Water availability in the residence halls has also decreased, with the schedule for water changing from two to three hours twice a day to an hour or less twice a day, if at all. Our only alternative to drinking water is to buy bottled water as the water is very contaminated and has caused outbreaks of diarrhoea.
Transportation throughout Cuba has also been affected. The country has decreased interprovincial transport (domestic flights, train and national buses) and prices have increased. The university has adjusted our timetable, cutting down class time, to facilitate the Cuban students and teachers leaving earlier to be able to get to their homes at a decent hour.
In addition to these difficulties, the country has an outbreak of dengue and when such crises occur, the Cuban medical students are taken from school to patrol communities throughout the province in search of persons who present symptoms of dengue, causing classes to be suspended. So far, classes have been cancelled for two weeks (Sept. 9 to14 and Sept. 16 to 21st).
As scholarship recipients, we are in no way accustomed to lives of luxury. However, balancing a hefty course load while supporting such poor conditions is quite draining. It feels wrong to say we feel for the Cuban people in this time of crisis, because this crisis affects everyone here. I hope this letter reaches the right people and they open their hearts to help a country that has given the world so much!
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].