14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 25 September 2016 — The ideological battle of officialdom has a new enemy: the scholarships offered by the American organization World Learning to young Cubans between 16 and 18 years of age. In Cuban secondary schools and universities in recent days, the morning assemblies have “condemned and protested strongly” against what the state media describe as an “imperial maneuver.”
National television has provided extensive coverage of acts of “revolutionary reaffirmation” in which it criticizes the summer program offered by the US non-profit organization for citizens living on the island. An ideological onslaught of a kind that hasn’t been seen since the campaign for the release of the five Cuban spies who were imprisoned in the United States.
For two years, World Learning has offered four-week scholarships, between July and August, for Cuban secondary and university students. The organization aims to develop young people’s “skills in areas that include public speaking, teamwork, business, developing consensus, conflict resolution, defending their own rights, and problem solving.”
An agenda that Cuba’s officialdom has called “hostile and interventionist.” The president of the Federation of Students in Intermediate Education (FEEM), Suzanne Santiesteban, called for acts of repudiation against the program in secondary and higher education schools across the country. In the coming days 460 of these rallies will be held.
During its two years of existence, the scholarship program has become very popular among Cuban teenagers and the call for applications for the 2016 session was widely distributed by alternative information networks. “Everyone talked about it in the hallways and between classes,” says Fabian, a 17-year-old high school student in the city of Pinar del Rio.
“People were very excited, because it was a chance to travel with all expenses paid and to learn about another reality,” the young man commented to this newspaper. Although he explained that he decided not to apply for a scholarship because his father is a member of the Communist Party and in meetings of the party base “they are warned them that they could lose their membership card” if they allowed their children to travel to the United States through World Learning.
Now, the official condemnation has emerged from the Party circles and extended to the classrooms, where potential applicants for the scholarships are studying. In an effort to cut short the enthusiasm about the program, Suzanne Santiesteban charges that the organization receives financing from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which she classifies as a “known tool of subversion.”
“We can sense their annoyance in the air,” said Yadira Machado, mother of a 16-year-old who wants to take advantage of the scholarship next summer. “I told my son to turn a deaf ear to all that, because it is the opportunity of his life,” said the woman, who lives in Havana’s 10 de Octubre district.
However, not everyone in Machado’s house shares her opinion. The young man’s grandfather believes that the US NGO is “pulling in kids to turn them into counterrevolutionaries.” An opinion consistent with the warnings from the authorities, which calls the World Learning initiative a “new strategy” by the White House focused on the younger generation.
The rejection of scholarships for young people has come with several articles in the official press that also attack Cuba’s new independent media. The “new counterrevolution needs a new press,” a well-known State Security agent declares. The ideological onslaught appears to just be getting underway.