Video shows armed Cuban police breaking up student protest

09.10.10

A Cuban anti-riot squad, previously unseen but surprisingly well-equipped and with fixed bayonets, quelled a Pakistani student protest in Matanzas, a video of the event shows.

“Our hand will not tremble in the face of violence,” one Cuban official warns the medical school protesters in the video, broadcast on the Maria Elvira Live program on MegaTV.

The official adds that it’s the second protest by the Pakistanis but gives no dates for either, and says 15 leaders of the latest manifestation were to be flown home immediately.

A statement by the Cuban Embassy in Pakistan on Thursday, after parts of the video were posted on the Internet, confirmed the protests but did not mention the students’ complaints of inadequate education and living conditions.

“Unfortunately, since the first months of 2007 and until now, grave violations of discipline have repeatedly been committed by a small group of students,” the statement said.

“Such violations of discipline have included, among others, disrespect for their professors, disregard to the Cuban authorities, failing to attend class, misbehavior, physical aggressions . . . along with acts of violence,” said the statement, published by the online Pakistan Observer.

The video shows scores of members of the anti-riot squad dressed in black and equipped well for a country where riots are extremely rare — with tear gas guns, riot batons, dogs, face shields and U.S.-styled helmets. Several had bayonets fixed on their AK assault rifles.

About five squad members are seen briefly pushing back a group of a few dozen students, some wearing skull caps. But the video did not show any signs of violence.

WELL PREPARED

It’s not clear if the unit, previously unseen in public, belonged to the police or military, but its deployment signaled that the government is well prepared for street disturbances.

“This is a super well-equipped unit, which we have never seen before but which showed that it was ready for something serious,” said Camilo Loret de Mola, who appeared on the Maria Elvira Salazar program that broadcast the video.

Loret de Mola said the video was received from a Cuban he declined to identify. The program broadcast segments on Wednesday and Thursday.

The protest took place at the Maximo Santiago Haza Medical School in Jagüey Grande, in Matanzas province, where nearly 1,000 Pakistanis have been studying on scholarships arranged after a devastating earthquake hit Pakistan in 2005.

Pakistani media reports indicate that it occurred sometime before March, and that at least five of the students were sent home.

The video, apparently taken on cellphones, shows the riot squad virtually surrounding the campus and posted on rooftops as the students are warned by Rolando Gómez, a foreign ministry official who helped set up the scholarship program.

FUTURE AT STAKE

“Think well about what’s at play here,” Gómez cautions them, because “today is the day that you decide if you want to be doctors or you want to go home.”

El Nuevo Herald phone calls to a number listed for the embassy went unanswered.

Under the scholarship program, about 400 Pakistani students arrived in Cuba in 2007 and another 600 arrived a year later. They were sent to the Matanzas school rather than the better known Latin American School for Medicine near Havana, which has about 30,000 students from 126 countries.

A letter purporting to speak for the 1,000 Pakistani students in Cuba, posted Sept. 17, 2009 on the website Overseas Pakistani Friends, detailed a slew of complaints against Cuban and Pakistani authorities.

“We are very much frustrated and feel our future on stake, as we do not even know whether our degree is valid or not” once they return to Pakistan, the letter notes.

While the scholarship program touted Cuba’s medical education as “world leading,” the letter added, the Matanzas school “by no definitions of the word can be called a world leading university.”

The converted Spanish-language school lacks facilities such as a “library, proper laboratory, no specimens (The dead bodies etc) are available for the dissection, and even the nearest hospital is far away from our school.

“How can one think of a medical school without any hospital attached?” the letter asked.

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