NINETEEN nationals studying medicine in Cuba want to know the “true reason” behind so much silence surrounding their pleas to return home. They say they feel non-existent.
The students are scholarship recipients and were initially based at the Latin America School of Medicine in Havana. After their pre-medicine programme, they were sent to subsets throughout the country to continue the programme which runs for seven years.
While Cuba’s borders remain closed, they too have been granting exemptions for nationals to return and non-nationals to leave. A student speaking on condition of anonymity, said it feels like there is a “Bermuda triangle of secrets” as there has not been adequate communication from officials in both countries.
“We can’t specifically point to the government, to the ambassador or to Cuba. I heard that TT nationals here are running out of money, they have to rely on the locals for food, they’re begging, threatening to hire lawyers…” She said it has become a battle to secure even basic food items owing to shortages. “I don’t know who cries more between my mother and myself. We suffering, basically.
“Sometimes you’re not getting toothpaste, toilet paper, soap, chicken, detergent, oil – all these different things. And you can only get it if you’re a local. They have a card system where they provide their information and they get access to them if they have them...Unlike students in other countries that could still go to groceries and PriceSmart and stuff, we don’t have those options.”
Another student shared similar sentiments, saying, “Grocery shelves are empty…All of this coupled with poor sanitary conditions and overcrowding made the situation more uncomfortable.” But some schools have occasionally been assisting by purchasing these items and re-selling it to students.
The students were told if they leave and are unable to return to Cuba in September providing that Cuba’s borders remain closed, they must either take one or two years off from their course of study. “It’s not like UWI who, from the beginning told its students they could have online classes and stuff like that.”
Many of the students have continually written to the TT Embassy in Cuba, National Security Ministry and Education Ministry since March. They said all the replies were automatic ones, acknowledging receipt of the e-mail.
Young replied to one e-mail on June 8. He said he “acknowledges receipt” of their letter, adding that he sympathizes with them and “the difficulties” they are currently facing. He reminded them TT’s borders remain closed but said all nationals will eventually return.
“The Government is managing the return of nationals to TT in a manner so as not to compromise our public healthcare system, and in particular, the government’s ability to quarantine returning nationals in state-controlled facilities.
He asked whether there were commercial flights available from Cuba to Barbados, likely as students at the UWI Cave Hill campus will return on Saturday. He did not indicate the reason for asking about Barbados, but said it was “made to ascertain what possibilities exist.” The students who spoke with Newsday said all they want is a status update and clearer communication with government on the situation.