Belizean students currently in Cuba have written a plea to the government after the Ministry of Education announced a cut to their stipend. Ordinarily in September they would receive one hundred and fifty Cuban pesos but for this coming academic year the stipend will be cut to one hundred Cuban pesos monthly, equivalent to just over two hundred Belize dollars. The students are outraged, and desperate, since they already struggle in stretching the current stipend and are most times forced to seek help from their parents. Today, we spoke with several students who preferred to remain anonymous. They explained the obstacles they face studying in Cuba.
Student: “The amount we were getting in the beginning was already something that we felt we had to stretch, like you know we really had to budget that so that it could last us the month and now that it went down $50 we’re actually going to have to depend on help from home and it’s so difficult to get help from back home like asking your parents it’s like putting up a responsibility on them and it’s not something you want to do knowing the situation in Belize.”
Student: “I personally spend on average of $200 to $250 US a month with groceries and toiletries and you know my necessities that I require. So the budget cut to put it bluntly it’s a punch to the gut.”
Student:”I spend roughly about $200 CUC per month and this is with help that I get from my parents when they can. It is not easy because there is no Western Union or MoneyGram here so even that is a difficult situation. We are literally depending on our stipends and there’s no way we can travel to get money or even have a way of receiving it.”
Student:“I believe our embassy could be doing so much for us and it is heart breaking seeing that other embassies or governments doing so much for their students here in Cuba and we instead are getting a stipend reduction. For example Antigua and Barbuda embassy they organized for their students to return home and indeed they are home already.”
As if having to live on three hundred Belize dollars per month in Cuba is not a sufficient struggle, the Belizean students went to explain that procuring the basic items is also a challenge. Cuba has long been under an economic strain, which stems from the embargo placed on them by the United States. There is little to no availability of basic items, and when they are available, they are severely overpriced.
Student: “What worries us most is that the fact that even with money there are simply no products here which is a big part of the reason students travel every summer is to go home and bring back groceries and hygiene products. In fact most of the students that travel regularly every summer they might bring two to three suitcases and out of that almost all of it is entirely food and hygiene products your deodorant, toilet paper and stuff like that because here it was already hard to get those things and in this pandemic it just made it a hundred times harder.”
Student: “There are certain grocery stores set about in different parts of Cuba where foreigners cannot go and buy because it’s for only Cubans. Cubans pay in Cuban money and the government supplies whatever basic things they need like toiletries, oil, milk whatever that we cannot get on the street or sometimes not even in the larger super markets.”
To add insult to injury, the students, who have not had classes since March, are unable to come home for several reasons. At first, they stated that the Belizean Embassy in Cuba was discouraging them from leaving the country. Additionally, since classes are set to open in September, if they leave now, they would have to return by August 15 in order to go into quarantine for two weeks before attending classes. Coming home, however, poses another problem due to the price of quarantining in Belize once you are repatriated. What makes matters worse for them is that as foreigners, they are treated badly by police officials there in Cuba. According to the students, the staff at the Belize Embassy in Cuba has assisted them in procuring food and hygiene products. They are grateful, but they noted that it would be easier for them if the Belizean Ambassador was still in Cuba. According to the students they feel that the Ambassador has left them high and dry.
Student: “Even though there are really long lines that we have to form to maybe get inside the store so that they maybe have the product or the food that we need to buy sometimes we just get pulled out of the line by a police that says we’re not supposed to be in the line, that the line is for Cubans and well there we go. Another struggle that personally I faced I got really sick here and I was trying to find medications for myself and it was really difficult and at one point I noticed that they did have- I went to multiple pharmacies in my area and I realized that they did have the medications they just didn’t want to sell me it.”
Student: “The minute they see us on the streets they had immediately recognized us as foreigners so we were like not able to go to internet parks to use WiFi. If we were seen in any public places the police would stop us and ask us to go home and sometimes even escort us home to make sure we’re going home.”
Student:“Things like that, like canned food that we could have there at hand to help us with the struggle here and yeah that was pretty nice of them to do that. They had delivered it to where we were and there was almost zero work involved in getting that package we just had to wait a little bit for it and the thing is right now with the embassy here in Cuba is that our ambassador is MIA. When the whole pandemic started she had left with the Cuban brigade that had arrived in Belize in early March but yeah she’s not here anymore so the people here that are doing that are the workers at the embassy and I really don’t think they have to do that for us I think that just came out of the kindness of their hearts to help us and we really do appreciate that. Not having an ambassador here is something I never thought would be as stressful as it is because we are not in Belize like this isn’t our country we’re foreigners here and she represents us. So whenever we have a problem or something of the sort we would need our ambassador to stand up for us or to at least you know argue or debate on our behalf.”
Student: “There is no ambassador in Cuba for Belize so we found out that she left in the beginning of the pandemic and really it’s the staff at the embassy that has been trying to manage the whole situation.”
Student: “Many of us would really like to be home but being willing to go home and being able to are completely different.”
In the 2-page letter sent to the Government of Belize by the Belizean students, they have asked the government to facilitate them in getting basic necessities sent to them via a chartered flight. No response to their request has been received up to news time tonight.