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Cuban students in U.S. reply to their critics

Young Cuban scholarship recipients. From left to right Sahily Navarro, Henry Constantin, Haisa Fariñas and Danilo Maldonado.

Marti’s radio program, 1800 Online spoke to the young Cuban scholars, who responded to allegations of nepotism.

Concern for their families in Cuba, hours of dedicated study to learn English, the affection from those who share their political views, and the discovery of the American society, so demonized by their own government , qualify the experience of a group of young Cubans studying for a six-month period at the Miami Dade College.

The staff from the radio show 1800 Online spoke to four of the students, Sahily Navarro, Haisa Fariñas, Danilo Maldonado, and Henry Constantin. They talk about the experiences and aspirations as members of the scholarship program Somos un solo pueblo (We are one people).

The organizers of the project emphasized that the beneficiaries from these scholarships do not necessarily have to be part of opposition groups. Nonetheless, most of them are related, in one way or another, to the opposition.

In response to the commentaries of nepotism, or the lack of plurality in the selection of scholars, Lady in White Sahily Navarro, daughter of activist Félix Navarro, says that they are a diverse group in terms of their origin of province, gender, race, and educational level.

“The 17 students are not relatives of people from the opposition, they are not even opponents,” Navarro said. She cites the cases of Alejandro Cuello and Ana del Río, among others. Sahily was expelled from the university during her second year in law school, due to her political activism.

Henry Constantin was expelled three times from different universities while he studied journalism and audiovisual communication.

Henry Constantin, who is particularly interested in the subject, says, “Neither my parents, nor my family are dissidents. The most dissident of the Constantin family is me.” He understands the concern from dissident parents with respect to the education of their children, since his 8 year-old son “is already experiencing the consequences of having a father committed to change the government of his country.”

“I can only imagine the situation of the young people who have parents, uncles, grandparents, and brothers involved with the opposition. I know that others make their lives a living hell. Even though they behave normal, they are constantly scrutinized, and they cannot access some careers paths such as journalism.”

For Danilo, “El Sexto” Maldonado, who is an urban artist, the program is an opportunity to open the mind to different points of view, rather than the ones imposed in Cuban schools.

“Dissidents there are simply worried about the education of their children. It’s a dogmatic system from the time they are saying ‘pioneers for communism’ at a young age,” he says. He adds that if one wants to change the future of the country, one has to start from one’s roots.

Family, English, and hope
Navarro admits that he feels the distance from his family profoundly and the “constant concern is knowing that they are activists from the island, knowing the repression they face.” But he is thankful for having at hand a tool as valuable as the Internet to communicate with them and become an echo of his difficult situation.

For now, they focus on learning English. They say it is a challenge for all of them, mostly because the level of knowledge of this language varies among the members of the group.

“The English we learned in Cuba is not as practical as we hoped. And the good and the bad thing of learning in a place like Miami, is that it is so full of Cubans, that in order to speak in English, you have to push people to do it,” says Constantin laughing.

Haisa Fariñas, niece of Cuban activist Guillermo Fariñas, who pursues a technical career in health studies in Cuba, rushes to thank Professor Marlene Colón for her kindness and patience. “Education is different here. In Cuba, everything is mechanical and here you are taught to think about what you learn.”

They still have a long road to travel. The most important thing they will take to Cuba, they say, is “the huge amount of love and hope that Cubans from here show to us, and many Cuban activists in the island,” concludes Maldonado.
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    Lizandra Diaz Blanco

    Lizandra Díaz Blanco is a journalist and radio host. At The Marti's, she alternates between hosting two radio shows: and 1800 Online, with reports for the website. She studied journalism at the University "Marta Abreu" of Las Villas in Cuba. Follow Lizandra on Twitter: @lizandraonmarti