TRINIDAD and Tobago nationals studying in Cuba are once again making a plea to be brought home as they say conditions have become unbearable amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The students say they are facing a shortage of food and hygiene products, further exacerbated by the United States embargo against Cuba.
In a statement to the Express yesterday, one of the students said even basic items have become scarce.
“Things are getting more desperate for us by the day,” the medical student said. “I am at the point of making my own hand soap with powdered soap and shampoo as I do not know when next I might be able to find bars of soap.
“Milk, which we might find once a month, is rationed two cartons per person, and only sold if you live within the area. If you do not live in the area, too bad. And because of how scarce the milk is, the lines are long. As in several hours long. If you want milk, it is a whole-day thing. Pack your lunch.”
Fruits and vegetables are also in short supply, the student added.
“For a week, simple things like cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce could not be found. What is even more difficult is that certain essentials are available now only in Cuban markets, called bodegas, that are only for Cuban citizens. So we cannot get access to things like rice, sugar, soap or toothpaste now because they are not available in the other markets.”
The student, who asked not to be named or identified by gender, said requests have been sent to National Security Minister Stuart Young detailing the circumstances and asking to be brought back to Trinidad.
However, they have all been met with the same response of “the borders are closed”.
“That reply is not at all comforting. We have seen our pleas and efforts on display in the news back at home, yet we are still not given any idea as to what will be done for us,” the student said.
The student said Caribbean Airlines (CAL) is offering repatriation flights and all that is needed is permission from the Government.
Last Saturday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said even if the students in Cuba are granted exemptions, there are no flights operating from Trinidad to Cuba.
He added that Government took on the responsibility to bring back students from The University of the West Indies’ (The UWI) campuses in Jamaica and Barbados as the university is a quasi-Government institution.
“The Government is choosing to repatriate citizens from other Caribbean territories, giving them priority, saying that they are in Government institutions,” the student noted.
“I do not understand how they can then neglect us when our situation is even more dire by being in a country with a trade embargo and a foreign language. We have indicated in previous e-mails what the situation is like, yet they give us no priority.
“Several Caribbean countries with less resources than T&T have already repatriated or are in the process of repatriating their students and other citizens from here. St Lucia, Dominica and St Vincent have already repatriated their students.
“The Jamaica, St Kitts and Antigua governments are in the process of planning their repatriations, and the students from St Kitts and Antigua apparently are receiving free transport. Yet our country, with a national airline, is offering us no transport, let alone free transport, up to now.
“My point is that we are Trinbagonians and we deserve to be at home during this crisis. The Government says that they have a responsibility to protect the citizens that are in the country. Well, I say that their responsibility to their citizens does not end once we leave T&T soil. They have a responsibility to us here as well, which they are neglecting.”
Give the criteria
Another student who spoke to the Express said she was “heartbroken” to see The UWI students brought back home and no word on whether the students in Cuba, some of whom are on scholarships, would be granted exemptions.
“They found a way to bring in the Cuban nurses, the same could be done for us,” she said.
A team of Cuban ICU (intensive care unit) nurses arrived in Trinidad and Tobago in May to assist the country in the fight against Covid-19.
She said while she understood the Government’s position to manage repatriation in a careful manner, some situations are more dire than others.
“What are the criteria?” she questioned. “It cannot be that they are bringing back people from cruise ships and vacations, but they are letting students suffer like this.”
National Security Minister Stuart Young could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Earlier this month, Young acknowledged receipt of requests for exemptions from the students in Cuba.
He said then the ministry would communicate with the Cubangovernment to assist the students in “whatever way that they can”.
The Express understands at least 25 students in Cuba are seeking to return home.