Sunday, August 31, 2014

University (for the Tenacious)

University (for the Tenacious) / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin, Reinaldo
Posted on August 30, 2014

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 28 August 2014 – Henry Constantin is
a native of Camagüey province, born in Las Tunas on Valentine's Day, 30
years ago. He has been expelled from university three times for his
ideas, but still believes he will obtain his journalism degree.

This slender, plain-spoken young man has founded two independent
publications and has just returned from a cultural exchange program. For
years he has been part of the reporting team of the magazine Convivencia
(Coexistence), and today he invites the readers of 14ymedio to share the
challenges he has faced in his classroom journey.

Question: You hold the sad distinction of three expulsions from
university. What was the first time like?

Answer: One day I wrote this question on the board: Who was the Cuban
nominee for the Nobel Prize? My fellow students did not know, neither
did the professor, so I wrote the name of Oswaldo Payá.

Later I selected for a research topic the actual level of acceptance
enjoyed by the official media in the general population. I was failed,
and that report was suggested as possible grounds for my expulsion.
Finally, they lowered my grade for poor attendance — a false claim being
that the majority of my colleagues had more absences than I did. That
was the year my son was born and my professor/advisor had told me, "take
care of that and don't worry about absences."

My son is now 8 years old – the same age as my problems.

Q: Even so, you tried again…..

A: A year later I was able to enter the University of Santa Clara
journalism school. I was the only student who was not a member of the
FEU (University Student Federation), and — in the university's Internet
lounge — I learned of the existence of alternative blogs. It was there
that we founded a magazine called Abdala*, which we ultimately we named
La Rosa Blanca* (The White Rose). We produced it without a computer, but
still published five issues, until (another magazine) La Hora de Cuba
(Cuba's Hour) replaced it.

When I completed that course, they failed me for having produced a radio
script dealing with the effects of the Huber Matos case on the broadcast
media in Camagüey.

Q: Were you allowed to present it?

A: The professor thought it was heresy for me to stir up the case of
that Sierra Maestra commander condemned to 20 years in prison for
resigning his post. He suggested that I do a project on the journalism
of José Martí. So I tackled the censorship suffered by the Apostle** at
the hands of the Argentine government for his articles in the newspaper,
La Nación. They failed me again, but by that time I had the right to

So I tackled the censorship suffered by José Martí at the hands of the
Argentine government for his articles in the newspaper, La Nación.

I went to Camagüey for the weekend and when I returned (to the
university) they were waiting to remove me from the premises. They
informed me that I had been expelled from the graduate school by virtue
of a disciplinary action — nothing ideological, of course!

Four men escorted me to the door and instructed the custodians to keep
me from re-entering the building. They also instructed the newspaper
Adelante and the Radio Cadena Agramonte station — where I had done my
journalism practica — to call the police if I tried to enter.

Q: So that was your definitive goodbye to university classrooms?

A: I don't surrender easily. In September, 2009, I took the aptitude
tests to enroll in the National Institute of Art (ISA), in the school of
audio-visual media. I attained the maximum score and was accepted. While
at ISA, I worked on the magazine, Convivencia, edited by Dagoberto
Valdes in Pinar del Río province. He proposed that I join the Reporting
Council and I said yes. I also worked on the independent program Razones
Ciudadanas (Civic Reasons).

Another project I participated in while a student at ISA was Hora Cero
(Zero Hour). It began after a strike motivated by the bad food we were
served. It consisted in staging encounters with persons outside of the
institution. Jorge Molina and Gustavo Arcos came, but when we invited
Eduardo del Llano, we were obstructed.

In May, 2011, they scheduled me to meet with the dean of ISA, to tell me
they had discovered that I had been expelled from the graduate school.
At that point I was three days from completing my courses, so I
resisted, arguing that the other students should decide my fate. Once
again I was removed by force from the premises, in a car that left me at
the bus station. So that is the end of my history as a university
student, and my obsession with obtaining a degree.

Q: And after the third expulsion?

A: I returned to Camagüey and re-initiated the Hora Cero (Zero Hour)
project, at my own risk, in my own home. We started with exhibitions of
the photos of Orlando Luís Pardo, a short by Eduardo del Llano, and
music by some troubadour friends. Up to now, we have had good attendance
by the public. The poet Maikel Iglesias, the theater troupe Cuerpo
Adentro, the poet Francis Sánchez, and Eliecer Ávila with his
audiovisual work, Un cubano más (Just Another Cuban), have also

To Hora Cero have come university students, professors, neighbors,
courageous people who dare to exchange ideas. Some attend who have been
instructed to inform about what takes place in these encounters, and
others who have been coerced for having received a simple invitation
from me to participate.

The first time that State Security visited me, my mother — who at that
time was serving on a mission in Venezuela — was threatened. They told
her that if she continued supporting me, she could lose the bank account
where her salary is deposited. Others have been told that Hora Cero is
funded by the CIA.

Q: Have you gone back to your studies?

A: A year ago I heard about a program, Somos un solo pueblo (We Are One
People), for young people who have had difficulty pursuing their studies
here, and are given the opportunity to do a 6-month course in the United
States. Classes in psychology, personal effectiveness, principles of
business or sociology, among many others. It was a wonderful experience
for me and I learned a lot.

Q: And now?

A: I think I will have my work cut out for me in the next 50 or 60
years, judging by how I see present-day Cuba. If I have any time left
over I want to write fiction…but with the way things are, that will have
to wait.

Translator's notes:
* Both of these titles are from the poetry of 19th century Cuban patriot
José Martí.
**Martí is referred to as the "Apostle of Cuban Independence".

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Source: University (for the Tenacious) / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin,
Reinaldo Escobar | Translating Cuba -

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