Monday, January 29, 2007

Film about Cuba enlightens teens

Posted on Fri, Jan. 26, 2007

Film about Cuba enlightens teens
Students at Belen Jesuit and Our Lady of Lourdes Academy were part of a
documentary on Cuba that underscored the importance of free speech.

Ricardo Rodriguez sampled the bittersweet taste of free speech this
week, as he sat in his classroom at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in
Miami and watched a Channel One news segment, which featured a Cuban
high school girl defending Ernesto ''Che'' Guevara and the Cuban revolution.

As a Cuban American whose grandfather had a business confiscated by
Cuba's communist government in the early days of Fidel Castro's
revolution, Ricardo wasn't happy listening to someone rave about the
system that he abhors.

But he and 7 million other students in the United States sat through a
four-day series this week about Cuba, its youth and the dark side of the
Cuban revolution. The series is part of a John S. and James L. Knight
Foundation-sponsored campaign on how the U.S. Constitution's First
Amendment -- which protects freedom of speech, press and religion, and
the right to assemble and petition the government -- affects teenagers.

''I was actually born there, and when I see the documentary, I've seen
all of that, and I've been there a few times since I came here, and I
feel it's harder for me to see what people are going through, and still
see that people over there are blinded,'' Rodriguez, a senior, said.
``Over here we have so much freedom of speech, and we can say anything
we want.''

An important point not lost on Belen students: Channel One's series
would not be allowed to air in Cuba, because it also featured people,
like Rodriguez, who criticized the Cuban government.

Alexander Marquardt, the Channel One reporter who traveled to Cuba in
December, said a Cuban government guide steered him through days of
interviews, and he had to ditch the guide to even breach the subject of
politics with Cuban citizens. Most of them wouldn't touch the issue.

''I think one of the main reasons that a lot of the Cuban Americans came
here was because they couldn't express themselves,'' Marquardt said. ``I
think without fail, every Cuban American that I've spoken to appreciates
the freedoms that they have now.''

On Thursday, Marquardt spoke to a sophomore history class taught by
Jorge L. Martinez at Belen while the fourth segment of his series aired.
Students had mixed reactions.

Claudio Silva, a Chilean-American student, pointed out that Chile has a
form of socialism, but that democratically elected government respects
people's rights.

''I think the problem with Cuba is that they have a dictator,'' Silva
said. ``You can have a socialist government or socialist thinking,
without necessarily having to take away the people's rights. The problem
with Cuba is that Fidel Castro is afraid to lose power, and he wants to
be a lifelong dictator, and that's why he has to oppress people's rights.''

Channel One interviewed students at Belen and Our Lady of Lourdes
Academy to balance out the story with teenagers not afraid to speak out
against the Cuban government. Many of the students at the two Catholic
schools are Cuban American. Founded in Havana, Belen's graduates include
Castro, who later closed the Jesuit school shortly after the revolution.

Danny Urgelles, student body president at Belen, said the Miami school
was a natural choice for Channel One to interview students because
Castro graduated from Belen, and the school has a proud tradition of
educating Cuban and Cuban-American leaders.

''The Miami segment showed primarily the point of view from here, from
most Cuban Americans, of the negative aspects of Cuba,'' he said. ``What
was shown from over there, unfortunately, I tend to think showed things
in an optimistic light. Things aren't as pretty, necessarily, as they

Read Oscar Corral's blog Miami's Cuban Connection in the blogs section
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