Vincentian students currently taking advantage of scholarship opportunities de la Republica de Cuba are careful to note their gratitude even while voicing personal safety concerns as COVID-19 continues to spread through that Caribbean nation.

Beleaguered by transnational political malevolence and its ensuing socio-economic hardships, the Cuban government has been faced with more than its fair share of woes since the Kennedy administration ran the U.S White House. Today, effects from recently tightened sanctions imposed by that singular global power broker are negatively impacting future Vincentian doctors’ learning experience in-country. They live with the constant threat of exposure to the dreaded COVID-19 disease as an additional major stress factor that is distracting from ongoing exams and other end of term assignments.

The concern is a valid one given the State’s confirmation of its COVID-19 testing results as of midnight April 24, 2020. Ministerio de Salud Publica announced via its, “3462 patients were admitted to hospitals for clinical epidemiological surveillance. Another 6 thousand 560 people are watched in their homes, from the Primary Health Care.

“One thousand 857 samples were studied for COVID-19, resulting in 52 positive samples. The country accumulates 37 thousand 991 samples made and thousand [sic] 337 positive (3.5%). Therefore at the close of yesterday, 52 new cases are confirmed, for a cumulative of 1,337 in the country.”

Of the 52 Cubans testing positive as per the April 24 results one of them is a “Cuban citizen 20 days of age, resident in Guanabacoa, Havana province.”

One Vincentian student noted the culture shock that is endured and the deteriorating conditions in which their best academic performances are constantly demanded. “Moving from a country where the internet is available and [pipe-borne] water is available it is very, very difficult for us. We have been trying our best to survive in Cuba and we’re not ungrateful for the opportunity. Yes, it is hard on most days but we try our best and we push through, we try to maintain our grades but right now it is very difficult because there is a pandemic and we actually feel like if our lives are in jeopardy.”

The young doctor-in-training referenced xenophobic incidences that antagonize foreign students whenever necessity forces them outside the closed campus gates to forage for household stocks.

“They think that we are the reason why Cuba is in the state right now with the coronavirus even though a lot of us have been living here for almost a year now;

“a lot of people did not go home in December for the last break, so a lot of people have been here for a long time but they still want to blame us –

“even the students that travelled in December the coronavirus was not a thing back then – and we’ve been in Cuba for how long now before the first case got here. ”

Several days ago reported that “over 70 Guyanese doctors and medical students who are on scholarships in Cuba are seeking to return home after their training was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” In a letter to their Public Health Ministry, the Guyanese students cited, amongst other concerns, access to food as one overarching issue that is forcing their Cuban exodus.

“Noting that the meals provided at the institutions are limited, the students say that whenever they do make it to the shops they are confronted by locals.

‘The Cubans are of the opinion that these items are for the locals and have openly objected to our presence in their lines….

“New measures include that certain basic food and items will be rerouted to the bodega; it is common knowledge that these items in the bodega can only be sought with the use of a booklet.

“Foreign national students do not have access nor can they utilize the same. Therefore how are we to get the basic food, goods or necessities?’” the students’ letter conveyed.

By December 3, 2019, the U.S Treasury Department already “blacklisted 6 oil tankers involved in the shipment of Venezuelan oil to Cuba, the latest in a series of sanctions aimed at pressuring Havana to abandon its support for socialist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro,” according to Reuters.

In an earlier publication that international news organization described, in some detail, the “deepened austerity measures” undertaken by Cuban authorities following the Trump administration’s sanctions. Interestingly, in September 2016, Newsweek Magazine reported one of Donald Trump’s companies as having “violated the United States embargo against Cuba” while Trump was the Republican presidential nominee. “On February 8, 1999, Seven Arrows billed Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. for the $68, 551.88 it had incurred prior to and including a trip to Cuba on behalf of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc.” the article chronicled.

Whatever the US President’s motivation, the impact of his additional impositions on the timeworn barter agreement under which Venezuelan oil was supplied for Cuban medical services is telling. A medium to long-term strategy would see a Cuban/Russian alliance that is expected to yield “30 wells in 2 years [en Cuba] at a cost of 100 million euros,” as the two countries work “towards reducing Cuba’s dependence on energy imports by improving its energy efficiency and collaborating on oil exploration.” No immediate measures to provide short-term relief to the island were announced, Reuters reported.

In another exclusive Asbert News Network interview, Vincentian Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves acknowledged the anxiety of some students who want to come home but are unable to so do due to Cuban enforced air travel restrictions. “It’s a question of the resources, where do you put the resources? They’re not in a situation, as I have been informed, where they’re in a precarious situation.

“I know all what they say, but they are there. Some who were off campus had to move on campus because of this particular problem with the virus in Cuba. And we’re just watching it and following it. We don’t have any plans for any chartered [airplane] service at this time.”

Days later, PM Gonsalves announced, at a Health Ministry briefing, “the students who want to come out of Jamaica, those who want to come out of Cuba their families are talking to One Caribbean you know.” The relatively new, Kingstown-based airline offers private charters amongst its suite of services.

It is not quite clear just how many students would be able to make that flight, if it ever gets underway, as some must make the choice between finishing out the year with the attendant challenges or heading to their home islands which would mean failing the semester since the Cuban school authorities have indicated that “they have no intention of stopping classes.” The school term has also been extended behind the normal July end of year date because they want to “have more time to cover the content.”

As for any government’s plans to boost the approx. 61 Vincentian students’ supply of personal protective equipment, food stock or other basic necessities, PM Gonsalves posed a rhetorical response to ANN.

“Let me ask you a question, if you are studying in Cuba and you are with other students on the campus and they are also Cubans and they are paying for your education and you’re sending stuff for them [sic] which is different than what the Cubans are providing;

“stuff which we are finding difficult even to get for your frontline health workers down here. You know what’s happening to the PPEs?

“They’re holding them up in the United States, the supply chain is problematic – it’s a difficult and imperfect situation,” PM Gonsalves said.

Some say, “parents [of Vincentian students studying in Cuba] can supplement their studies with food stuff and other basics,” but at least one student there warned against this move.

“There are no ways available – unless people charter a flight or the Ambassador does then there are no other ways of getting stuff in, so we have to travel and get our supplies ourselves.

“And Cubans take everything personally so we have to be very careful doing imports too often.”

Considering Cuba’s poor resources and forced economic underdevelopment, its health indices rank extraordinarily at a developed country level, noted. The general consensus, therefore, seems to be that our students ought to consider the privilege of the Cuban scholarships a rite of passage which would mean that Vincentians studying there should be prepared to solider alongside Cubans in this latest “special period.”

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