Grenadian students in Cuba feel a sense of abandonment and neglect by the Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) government in St. George as they experience problems in getting food as the Caribbean’s sole communist regime battles with severe economic problems including massive food shortages.
A spokesman for the students who reached out to THE NEW TODAY was critical of the lack of official representation in Havana as Grenada’s accredited Ambassador Claris Charles has been back home for several months.
She said the government has sent the students to Cuba and is now leaving them “to fend for themselves” especially with the dire economic situation and rising Covid-19 figures on the Caribbean island.
“It’s shameful,” she remarked.
According to the student leader, the situation is dire in Cuba as they are forced to join the long lines at Grocery stores from as early as 1.30 a.m. in the wee hours of the morning to try and get items but the business place will open at 9.00 a.m. and by the time they get in around 2.00 p.m. which is nearly 12 hours later there is hardly anything left for them to purchase.
“That’s how long the lines are,” she said, adding that “sometimes when you get into the supermarket they have nothing there for you to buy.”
“It really has been a struggle just to get food and little things that we take for granted,” she said.
Cuba has been under an economic and financial embargo from its neighbour to the north, the United States, since late President Fidel Castro seized power in an armed struggle against the Washington-backed Fulgencio Batista regime in 1958.
The island is currently struggling from a severe economic crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic with about 6, 000 cases per day , as well as deteriorating living conditions, electricity outages and acute shortages of food and medicine.
The protest began July 11 in the Western city of San Antonio de los Banos and spread to more than 4o cities and towns including the capital Havana with many persons being arrested.
According to the student leader, Grenadians only know that students are sent to Cuba to study but do not understand how hard it is for them at the moment.
“Sometime even if you have a little money, they don’t have food and you can’t find nothing to buy,” she said.
She pointed out that at times the students cannot even find toilet paper to buy in Cuba due to shortages.
There are reports that the cafeteria on campus where the students are studying often serve meals without meat and the regular diet is rice and dry bread.
THE NEW TODAY understands that in the past, some students with relatives in the United States will travel there via Jamaica and will fill up two suitcases to bring back items into Cuba for their personal use.
The student indicated that they have been asking the Mitchell government for an increase in the US$1500.00 a year stipend given to them but with no luck.
“We asked for an increase (in stipend) and didn’t get a response to that. We are not getting any response from the government – is like they have no interest in helping us,” she said.
According to the student, the cost of living is on the increase in Cuba due to rising inflation and prices in the supermarkets have been constantly going upwards.
She said the government had indicated to them that they will try and have their parents back home make up a barrel with items to send to Cuba but the administration in the Botanical Gardens did not keep to its promise to help with shipping the barrel out to Cuba.
“They talked about the barrel once and then nothing again about it. There is no word on that up to now – we don’t know what is going on. Claris Charles is the Ambassador to Cuba and she’s no help either,” she added.
St. Lucia is said to be helping to send barrels for its students in Cuba while Guyana is involved in helping out with Care Packages for their own students.
According to the spokesman for the student, last year, they sent a message to Ambassador Charles about assisting with Care Packages from back home but nothing happened.
The student indicated that the only thing Ambassador Charles did was to send out a message to them in recent days indicating that Grenada is keeping an eye on the present situation in Cuba.
THE NEW TODAY understands that Grenada has just over 60 students presently studying in Cuba.
There are reports that those Grenadian students in Havana have not left their campus in nearly 2 years especially due to the coronavirus pandemic and the food shortages.
The student charged that they had been writing letters for months to Ambassador Charles before she left Havana for home but she is not very co-operative with them.
She said the response that came frequently from Ambassador Charles is that the Mitchell-led government has “its hands full right now and she doesn’t think that they will do that, wouldn’t do this”.
According to the student, it is the government that is responsible for them leaving home to pick up the scholarships in Cuba and should be held responsible for them.
“She (Ambassador Charles) is in Grenada and she’s getting everything she needs but we are in Cuba seeing trouble and that’s not right at all,” she told THE NEW TODAY.
The student said the US$1500 given by government to cover each school year is nothing in Cuba at the moment due to rising inflation and that is why the students are asking for a little more financial assistance from the administration in St. George.
“It’s like it (our request for money) falling on deaf ears – they (the government) (are) not doing nothing,” she quipped.
She said the students in Cuba have come to the conclusion that, “it’s very hard for Grenada to send anything for their students”.
Grenada was once known to be Cuba’s closest ally in the English-speaking Caribbean during the 1979-83 rule of the island by the left-leaning People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) of slain Prime Minister Maurice Bishop.
The Cubans played a pivotal role in sending construction workers and material to help with the construction of the international airport at Point Salines.