Havana, CUBA – Ten thousand students representing the University of Computer Sciences (UCI) questioned several of the Cuban government’s policies in a meeting held with the president of National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcón.
The youths asked several tough questions. Why are salaries paid in pesos while products are sold in other currencies? Why can’t they travel abroad? Why are Cubans prevented from staying in certain hotels? And why don’t they have full access to Internet?
Ricardo Alarcón avoided answering some of these themes directly by claiming that he was not an expert on the economy and by referring to what occurs in other parts of the world, but in concrete terms he did little to dispell the students’ doubts about Cuba.
This is the second case in which the authorities have dealt with criticism in public. Prior to this instance, it was from Cuban workers of foreign businesses after a government arranged meeting had to be suspended when the managing table completely lost control.
Thanks to a video anonymously delivered to the BBC, it is possible to continue the debates initiated by the UCI students, where youths, such as Alejandro Hernandez questioned the united vote “by that unidentified citizen that never even visited the UCI”. The united vote is a unique list of candidates that the government presents to the voters so that they can be elected as a group.
Another example was that of Eliécer Ávila who asked “why has the entire country’s domestic trade adopted the convertible peso (CUC) when our workers, laborers and peasants are paid a salary in the national currency which has 25 times less purchasing power?” Eliécer continued by asking “why the Cuban people don’t have a viable chance of going to hotels or traveling to other destination in the world?” He added that “he didn’t understand why the government would prohibit him from visiting the place where Che fell in Bolivia?
Another critical point of the meeting regarded internet access. The students affirmed that they understood how the US blockade impeded the government from giving access to everyone, but that they couldn’t understand why using Yahoo is forbidden.
In addition, the UCI students asked that the Cuban ministers hand over the people’s accounts, explain development plans publicly, and remove the people in charge of projects that aren’t completed.
The president of the Cuban National Assembly explained that “he was not up to date with the internet situation” and that the issue of the double currency is currently being discussed in the government. However, he clarified that “I am completely ignorant about this, but I know that it can’t be done simply one way or the other.” He added that “he appreciated the Cuban youths concerns about the possibility of visiting the pyramids of Egypt or traveling to Bolivia” but added that nobody in the world can discuss traveling in terms of rights. We see how many Bolivians have the possibility of traveling.”
“If the entire world’s 6 billion inhabitants could travel where they wanted, the lines that there would be in the air would be enormous, the ones that have the ability to travel really are a minority.”
As for why the government prohibited access to the hotels Alarcón claimed that “the number of Cubans spending time in hotels today is higher that they were before 1959″ and explained that “back then I couldn’t know anything about the Varadero or the Tropicana”
This it is the second debate the Cuban authorities have been confronted with unexpectedly, the previous one occurred when the government levied a new tax on 1,200 Cuban employees of foreign businesses.
The government informed them in the National Theater that beginning in this year the treasury would keep part of the money in foreign currencies that their leaders receive “under the table,” a privilege that up to now was considered illegal and immoral.
There were protests, shouts, booing and even laughter, which raised how much of a serious need there was to change the ethical code that prohibits accepting such money, while assuring others that it expects to charge taxes on a criminal activity.
The managing table completely lost control, the meeting was dissolved, and all of the other meetings planned for the following days were suspended. The communication over these tax rates is now being done on a case by case basis.
2013-04-08 / The Guardian