Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Activists seek independent universities in Cuba

Activists seek independent universities in Cuba
Posted on Wed, Nov. 28, 2007
Associated Press

A group of Cuban students and young professionals said Tuesday it has
collected 5,000 signatures petitioning the government to allow
universities that would operate independently of the state while
encouraging freedom of speech.

Supporters of the University Students Without Borders Project want
Cuba's communist government to tolerate autonomous colleges and also
reopen Havana's Catholic University of Santo Tomas de Villanueva, which
authorities shuttered in 1961, two years after Fidel Castro's revolution
toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista.

''We are promoting a culture of free thinking despite the repression and
fear hanging over us,'' said Nestor Rodriguez, who helped organize the
petition drive with his brother, Rolando.

The small group began seeking signatures in August 2006 and hopes to
collect the 10,000 necessary to formally present its cause to Cuban

The brothers showed off a white cardboard box full of signatures in
front of about 30 supporters who wore matching white T-shirts and were
crammed into an apartment on a central Havana alley.

The brothers said they do not plan to present the petition to the
government yet for fear that its signatories could be expelled from
state-run universities. More than 2,000 of those who signed were college
students, and the rest were university faculty members or professionals
with college degrees, they said.

Their group said it presented a plan to reopen Santo Tomas de Villanueva
to Catholic officials last year, but had yet to receive a formal
response. A church official said Tuesday he had not heard of the proposal.

Cuba had 650,000 registered university students for the 2006-2007
academic year, according to the National Office of Statistics.

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