14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 16 February 2017 — David Mauri Cardoso, a 24-year-old from Cienfuegos, dreamt of being lawyer but could not successfully pass a test of dishonesty. In appearance it was a test of Spanish, but what was being evaluated was his capacity to fake it.
Along with 30 other young people, who had not been admitted to higher education through the standard entrance exams, David was part of an experiment where workers were enrolled in the first year of Law School at the Carlos Rafael Rodriguez University in Cienfuegos and then assessed on their knowledge of Math, History and Spanish.
The exams were conducted in January and David was one of twenty students who had made it to the end of the previous stage. He finished high school in 2011, and after several failed attempts to enter the university, this seemed to be his last chance.
His “incorrectness” is described in the Teaching Regulation of Higher Education, where it specifies “it is a very serious error to say or do anything against the Revolutionary Process.”
Everything seemed to be fine until the first week of February, when they summoned him to a Disciplinary Council. His “incorrectness” is described in the Teaching Regulation of Higher Education, where it specifies “it is a very serious error to say or do anything against the Revolutionary Process.” The punishment established for this behavior is expulsion from the higher education system in any program throughout the country. On Friday, 10 February, the resolution imposing this punishment was signed.
What, in fact, did David do?
The Spanish test consisted of writing an interpretation of a fragment of the lyrics from the song “Riding with Fidel,” which flooded the airwaves after the death of the former Cuban president at the end of November 2016.
David tells 14ymedio how he reacted when he read Question No. 5, which inquired about what he had felt when he honored the ashes of the historic leader of the Revolution. “I realized I was not in a position to fully respond, because that wasn’t the case for me. The question was based on an erroneous supposition, because I had not participated in the acts of homage to Fidel Castro, nor did I personally honor him in a spiritual way.”
Before the exam, he had prepared himself to identify a simile or a metaphor and felt capable of parsing a text to indicate subordinate or juxtaposed sentences and to call out with precision grammatical mistakes in any verb. But, he said, “To adjust to what they were asking me I responded with total honestly about what this person had meant to me. I was respectful because no one has the right to insult others. I gave my opinion in the framework of good manners.”
David recorded in his own handwriting the misery, the destruction of the foundations of society and the injustices. He dared to use the term “authoritarian” to define the established system in his country and at some point, without his pulse trembling, he wrote the word “dictatorship.”
“In short, I only offered my personal opinion, which is exactly what they asked of me,” he says with the simplicity of one who does not believe he has performed a historic act.
The person in charge of grading the exam must have felt very troubled in the face of such a demonstration of sincerity. David chose not to name names, his Christian ethics precludes it. Nor did he mention the identity of a Spanish-language methodologist at the provincial level who is, at the end of the day, the person who assumed the responsibility of lodging a complaint.
Here, the young student makes a legal argument. “This exam, more than a private text, was a confidential document. Something between the professor and the student that did not have to be sent on under any circumstance.”
In the sacred intimacy of the classroom, he offered his opinion, which was what was asked of him. Without his consent, his responses were “elevated” and analyzed under extra-academic rules
And therein lies the key, because David did not make statements to foreign television, nor did he publish an opinion piece in the independent press, nor did he go out into the street with a poster, all of which would have been his right.
In the sacred intimacy of the classroom, he offered his opinion, which was what was asked of him. Without his consent, his responses were “elevated” and analyzed under extra-academic rules.
Not a single one of David’s classmates was consulted on this sanction because according to the regulation that ordinarily requires a process that does just that, it only applies to “regular” students in the day course.
Now everything is “comments in the hallway” and no one will come to his defense.
David says he does not intend to appeal, although he explains: “I have not resigned formally because I still have time, but I lost interest because, when I think of appealing to the Minister of Higher Education, I wonder who this official answers to and it makes me feel like not even starting the process.”
To the question of what he intends to do with his life now, David jokingly replies: “What I was doing: inventing,” that is figuring out some way to get by, “like all young people do in Cuba.”