Guest Blogger: CAUSA’s Kenny Sinkovitz writes about The Faces of “Free Education”
(Note from Fausta: Last April I had the pleasure of interviewing Kenny Sinkovitz, co-founder of the local chapter of the Cuban American Undergraduate Student Association (CAUSA). Today Kenny honors us with a post of how CAUSA contributed to the release of Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, who was imprisoned for calling for autonomy of all Universities in Cuba. My heartfelt thanks to Kenny)
By Kenny Sinkovitz
Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina and his partner and brother, Nestor, a former “prisoner of conscience” are active leaders of a growing Cuban youth movement within the island vying for autonomous universities. By autonomous, they mean free and independent from the talons of the controlling and dogmatic communist regime. The program, sponsored by Lobaina and his brother, is called “Universidades sin fronteras,” (Universities without boundaries) and has appealed to Castro’s regime to permit university students the fundamental rights to assemble and associate on campus without limitation, to exchange freely ideas and opinions on any subject matter, and to have access to free and uncensored press. After Cuba’s universities became state-run starting in 1961, students, like citizens, lost these rights, and are now rallying behind Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina’s program to return the universities to the students. Cuban students do not have the freedom to create student organizations without the strict consent of the socialist government, for example, and cannot read censored material under the threat of civil disobedience and anti-revolutionary conduct. The state mandates what students can and cannot know, free of charge.
Lobaina’s brother reported to watchdog human-rights groups that his brother was resisting his unjust incarceration on September 7 by undergoing a prolonged hunger strike. He had then been moved to an undisclosed location on the island with his life hanging in the balance. Cuban university students who sympathize with Lobaina were not free to demonstrate against the state’s actions or rally support on behalf of Lobaina’s life because their “free education” did not permit them to do so. Cuban watch-dog groups and youth associations for educational reform in Cuba like “Raices de Esperanza” (Roots of Hope) and El Comité Internacional de Jóvenes por la Democracia en Cuba (International Youth Committee for Democracy in Cuba) took up the humanitarian cause because they sympathized with the plight of Lobaina and the university students of Cuba.
Thanks, in part, to the efforts of Princeton CAUSA (Cuban-American Undergraduate Association) and other national and international youth groups advocating “Education without boundaries,” in Cuba, Castro’s government released Lobaina from his arbitrary incarceration. An international “Fast Day” was in the making and ready to be launched Tuesday. Letters were sent by the hundreds to Cuban embassies all over the world admonishing the regime to free its most prominent proponent of educational reform. Shirts bearing the image of the peaceful and progressive Cuban youth leader were designed, and press conferences were held by youth activists in many Latin American and European countries. Seemingly overnight, a tragedy was averted and a success story instead prevailed.
Lobaina’s release from prison, only a week after his arrest gives credence to the power, passion, and conviction of the growing international youth network outside of the island, aspiring for recognition of human rights and educational reform in Cuba. The quick mobilization and response to Lobaina’s detention by groups such as “Raices de Esperanza” and “El Comité Internacional de Jóvenes por la Democracia en Cuba” raised enough eyebrows to sufficiently concern the communist regime, and proves that the voices and actions of Cuban sympathizers outside of the island are being heard and making a difference.
The free education afforded to those students working outside of the island, for the benefit of Cuban youth within, provides them with the opportunity to associate and mobilize with one another and to demonstrate their opinions and beliefs in a peaceful and civil manner. Sympathizers can research vast sources of press and media to decide for themselves if a cause is just and worth voicing their well-informed opinions. The “free education” of those advocates of “Universidades sin fronteras” outside of the island has been heard, and they now want the Cuban youth within the island to voice their own views and opinions on their respective campuses.
Co-founder and President of CAUSA, Chris Gueits, says that this issue touches every student at Princeton University who has ever taken advantages of the educational freedoms bestowed to American students, such as reading without restriction, joining independent student groups, and demonstrating in public (e.g. Frist Filibuster). “Universidades sin Fronteras” transcends politics and dives right to the most core values of “free” education. Education can be “free of charge,” but to be truly free, education must allow its pupils to be the authors of their own future. Who can argue with that?