14ymedio, Havana, April 9, 2019 — A protest organized by a group of medical students from the Republic of Congo on Monday was put down in a strong show of force by the National Revolutionary Police aided by special troops and officers from the Ministry of the Interior. The Congolese students were demanding payment of stipends, which have been on hold for twenty-seven months, and better housing conditions.
On April 1 the students met with representatives from the Congolese embassy, the Ministry of Higher Education and the Ministry of Health. It ended without the parties reaching an agreement, which led to greater frustration among the students.
The Congolese students began a protest strike, refusing to attend classes, to which authorities responded with violence at a student housing site. On Monday, the police focused their actions on the Salvador Allende campus in the Altahabana district in Boyeros.
“The police arrived and beat people up. At least five students were arrested and taken to a police station in the area along a neighbor who was filming [the attack] and a girl,” said a witness who did not want to reveal his name.
Videos shot by students and posted to social media sites show uniformed officers running towards the scene of the protest, which had previously been cordoned off by police. One officer arrives and pulls a gun on two students, one of whom had just wrestled another officer to the ground while being arrested.
Several hours later official media outlets published a statement from the Ministry of Public Health stating that the “incidents” caused by the Congolese students were due to “difficulties that the Ministry of Higher Education has faced in their country… in paying their stipends,” leading to violence requiring police intervention. The statement adds, “Lack of discipline will not be tolerated and appropriate measures will be taken.”
Late last month a group of students demonstrated in front of the Congolese embassy, demanding payment of their overdue stipends, which also precipitated a large show of force by the police. Official media outlets did not report the incident at the embassy, which is located on Fifth Avenue between 10th and 12th streets in Havana’s Miramar district.
The Cuban government offers scholarships to students from third world countries, which are financed in part or in full by those countries. Cuba’s share of expenses are covered by agreements with international organizations. These payments, together with the export of health services, — constitutes the government’s main source of income.
The Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) was founded in Cuba in 1999 and offers a six-year program to scholarship students from various countries. Its current enrollment includes students from forty-four African countries studying in various medical fields.
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