The Department of Public Service (DPS) is once again facing strong criticisms and condemnation for downplaying the plight of Guyanese scholarship students in Cuba and refusing to explore the option of evacuating them.
The students had made several requests to the Guyana Embassy in Cuba and the Government through the DPS amidst increasing health and safety threats posed by the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).
Cuba currently has more than 1,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
In a letter dispatched to the News Room by a few of the students, it was pointed out that 83% of the Guyanese students want to return home immediately – contrary to reports by the DPS that 80% of them wish to remain.
“Sixty-four students out of seventy-seven students here came together forming a letter asking the PSM (Ministry of Public Service) to consider evacuating us. Everyone read and contributed to the letter before including their names and no one was forced or asked to include themselves to ‘make up numbers’.
“That is part of the fabricated information the PSM published in some articles and video conference and it simply is not true. Persons were even encouraged to not include themselves on the letter if they are uncertain,” the letter stated.
On April 21, DPS Permanent Secretary, Soyinka Grogan disclosed that 80% of the students had indicated to the Ministry that the situation in Cuba was not dire and they were willing to remain.
On that basis and with advice from the National COVID Task Force, the Department denied the request to have the students evacuated.
Subsequently, a few students who spoke directly to the News Room debunked the 80% claim and noted that the situation in Cuba was deteriorating at an alarming rate.
The letter released to the News Room by a different set of students supported the claim of the first set of students and went on to debunk several “inaccuracies” of the DPS on April 21.
According to the Permanent Secretary, students in Cuba were continuing classes online and were provided with adequate water supply. But this was furthest from the truth, said the students.
“There are NO online classes in Cuba for anyone; everyone who has been here knows that is a myth, including the 83% of us that want to be evacuated. Cuba had gotten 3G mobile data last year and half the Cubans do not even own a laptop or cellular device, do you honestly think they will have online class?” the students questioned.
In relation to the water supply, the students noted that there is a routine shortage of water at their schools and it has been worse since the pandemic.
They noted, however, that one bottle of water has since been provided to each student at the ELAM University by Guyana’s student affairs officer Dr. Melissa Corlette.
There was also a claim by the Department that the students were also provided with Personal Protective Equipment.
But according to the students, it was merely a “piece of cloth.”
“The school has given us a piece of green cloth to cover our mouths. How effective do you think that is against a virus that has destroyed so many families? They claim we are ‘about to receive Personal Protective Equipment’ over one month they have been claiming that.
“As of this moment, nothing has been provided to us by the PSM since the pandemic took Cuba in early March, apart from a bottle of water they used to justify their word of ‘adequate water supply’.”
The students also referenced a news article in the Guyana Chronicle which stated that buses were being provided to transport them from home to school and back. But this, according to them, is a fallacy.
“There is no such transportation method in place as Cuba has suspended the private and public transportation system. Even before the epidemic this was never the case, no bus in Cuba will come to your home to pick you up and drop you back to your door step, that is simply a fantasy, every Cuban doctor back home can testify to that. There is NO ‘magic school bus’ in Cuba” they said.
The students disclosed in their letter that they found it necessary to respond to these claims, since the DPS has “twisted [their] words” and “made [them] out to be liars”.
They said that they will continue to engage the relevant authorities with the hope of being evacuated from Cuba.
“We simply want to pass this time with our families, what is so wrong with that? Cuba is a very difficult place to live, no one here has ever lived ‘comfortable’ in Cuba as the PSM’s Chronicle article states (Just ask any Cuban-trained doctor).
“Even before the tightening of the US embargo by The Trump administration, which lead to shortages of food, petroleum, gas, electricity and basic hygiene items like soap, sometimes for months on end, but we endured and did not complain because we are the future of Guyana and we will struggle here to come back and make Guyana great.
“But now those conditions coupled with the introduction of the COVID-19 virus (just image) has made things much more difficult and they continue to worsen, we ask: please help us home to our families before it is too late,” the students pleaded in their letter.