14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 May 2017 – I was in the third grade and the teacher chose the most aggressive girl in my class to be the room monitor. She was given carte blanche to control the other children. Later, the abuser rose to a position in the Federation of Middle School Students and joined the Union of Young Communists. Today she is an active part of a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. She is corrupt and violent, but highly valued by the authorities in her area.
Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (Cenesex), led by Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro, has launched a campaign against homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools. The initiative includes the family in order to “understand what it is about, to help the girls and boys, the teenagers, the young people, and all the staff of the school,” says the sexologist.
Mariela Castro says that the level of abuse in schools on the island is “fairly low,” an affirmation that demonstrates – at the very least – her lack of connection with the Cuban reality. Without reliable official figures, any investigation of the subject must appeal to the personal experience of individuals and this is when the stories and testimonies of bullying in the educational environment surface.
The high schools in the countryside, promoted by former president Fidel Castro, were a reservoir of these abuses, many of them carried out under the impassive eyes of the teachers. Suicides, rapes, systematic robberies of the most fragile, accompanied by power structures more typical of prisons than an educational institution, were the daily bread of those of us who attended these schools.
I remember the spring of 1991, when a student threw himself off the water tower of the People’s Republic of Romania High School in what is now Artemis province. He had been harassed by the taunts and pressures of several classmates. We were all crowded together in the central hallway during the evening’s recreation hour when we felt the thud of his body landing on the concrete.
His harassers never paid for that death, it never became a data point in the statistics of student victims of bullying, and a family had to bury a son without being able to put a name to what had happened to him: abuse. In the weeks after that death another student slit his wrists – fortunately he didn’t die – and a group of twelfth grade students beat up a tenth grader for “having feathers,” i.e. being effeminate.
However, abuse in the schools doesn’t end there. There are many ways to harass a student and not all of them come from his or her classmates, nor are they motivated by sexual stereotypes, strict gender roles or group bravado. Ideological violence, exercised by power and with the consent of the school administrators, is another way to inflict psychological damage.
A few weeks ago, a journalism student at the Central University of Las Villas was the victim of institutional abuse that will leave permanent psychic and social scars on this young girl, just 18. To make matters worse, it was the leaders of the University Student Federation who behaved toward Karla Perez Gonzalez as the school abusers, like the leaders of a gang or the thugs of the hour.
Since her expulsion, the former student has been the victim of a new type of harassment, this time embodied in a campaign of character assassination that would be laughable if it weren’t aimed at destroying her self-esteem and turning her into a non-person. To do something like that to a student of such a young age is an act of rape from power, persecution dressed up in the robes of school discipline.
The abusers, protected from above, end up feeling that they can destroy lives, denounce innocents and beat others as long as they are protected by an ideology. A system that has fomented political thuggery in its schools and its streets cannot confront bullying in all the complexity that the problem presents.
Noisy campaigns to fill foreign media headlines and the collection of large funds from international organizations is not the solution for all the Cuban children who have to deal, right now, with the physical blows, the ridicule of their classmates or partisan indoctrination in their schools.