CubaNews / November 2002
By Larry Luxner
Several hundred Cuban students could soon be pursuing degrees at community colleges across the Midwest — provided the Bush administration gets funding for the project and the Castro government allows the students to travel in the first place.
CubaNews has learned that 10 community colleges in Midwestern states have tentatively been selected by the Center for International Education and Development to receive the first group of students.
“The fundamental idea behind this is to increase contacts between normal Cubans and normal Americans, on the presumption that this would have a beneficial effect on civil society, broadening Cubans’ perspective,” a State Department official said. He added that “a lot of these colleges are looking at broadening their student base and ensuring they have a diverse participation.”
CIED, based in Washington, is to handle administrative details of the plan, first proposed by President Bush in his May 20 speech to Cuban exiles in Miami. The project will utilize $500,000 in taxpayer funds allocated in support of Section 109 of the so-called Libertad Act.
“We want to make this program similar to other programs that we developed in the 1980s with respect to Central America,” said the official, who asked not to be named. “The whole thing could be accomplished with less than half a million dollars.”
Initially, the State Department is “looking to start with a couple dozen people to get the program underway,” said the official, who conceded that Cuban authorities are not very happy with the idea.
Nevertheless, he said, “hundreds of Cubans have presented themselves [at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana] and filled out forms in an effort to hopefully get selected for one of these scholarships. I think we’ve received and processed around 400 applications.”
Under the proposal, students would begin with an intensive English class, followed by a two-year course of study of their own choosing.
The official, referring to Bush’s speech, said “it would be important to focus on providing scholarships to disadvantaged people, including the children or relatives of political prisoners and dissidents.”
But Luís Fernández, a spokesman at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, said the program’s aim is to “destroy the revolution.” He told CubaNews the money should instead go “to educate poor, disadvantaged students here in the United States.”