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Slamming shortages, med students in Cuba plead to come home

Published:Monday | April 27, 2020 | 12:23 AMTamara Bailey/Gleaner Writer
A Jamaican medical student in Cuba said this is all the food she has left.
A Jamaican medical student in Cuba said this is all the food she has left.

Approximately 40 Jamaican medical students in Cuba are pleading with the Holness administration to come home, claiming that food shortages, xenophobia, and limited sanitisation products continue to threaten their mental and physical health.

The students said that the COVID-19 pandemic has further compounded the shortages.

Jamaica closed its borders to incoming passenger traffic on March 24 to curb the spread of the new coronavirus. Ports will remain closed until May 31, except for Cabinet-approved exemptions.

But the expats studying in Cuba said that they may not survive till then.

“We are running out of food … . Cuban nationals get some things free by using a booklet when they go shopping, but that doesn’t apply to us. We can’t get rice, bread, eggs, flour, Irish potatoes, and those things unless they have excess,” a student, who requested anonymity, told The Gleaner.

The student said that some Jamaicans have experienced high levels of discrimination from residents and grocery store clerks who prevent them from buying supplies. They are also at risk of exposure to COVID-19 from standing in long lines for up to four hours, the student said.

Up to Sunday, Cuba had recorded 1,369 coronavirus cases and 54 deaths.

“The worst thing is, you will be standing in a line, and you just hear that everything is done. We are living off the food that we brought up here from Jamaica before the pandemic, and we have very limited amounts now ...,” the student said.

Classes have been on hold and online lessons have not been conducted, exacerbated by Cuba’s Internet inaccessibility.

“School has been closed since March 22. There are no online classes, and even if there were, it is very expensive to get Internet outside of the Wi-Fi park. ... There is hardly ever Cuban convertible pesos at the ATMs, even if our parents send us money, so we are looking to the Government to bring us home,” the student said.


The Holness administration has been criticised for its failure to offer a blanket return to Jamaicans working or studying overseas, but the Government has cautioned that doing so might worsen the incidence of infection in the island. There have been more than 350 coronavirus infections in Jamaica, many linked to imported cases. Seven people have died.

Jamaica accepted more than 60 nationals studying in Antigua on Friday, while Montserratian and Antiguan students here flew back on the LIAT return trip. That move has sparked hope that others may soon be welcomed home.

“I cannot sleep knowing my daughter, who is among others, are locked out of their country and are in need of help … ,” said a parent of a Jamaican medical student in Cuba.

“They can’t get food and the necessary sanitisation. They need help.”

The parent requested anonymity out of fear that the student might be penalised.

Director of communication at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Delona Flemming, acknowledged a request for comment on April 22.

“Assistance is being given to the students through Ambassador Kathryn Phipps. I am not sure why the student as mentioned has not heard anything as yet. Once I get the full information, I will communicate with you further,” Flemming said.

No further comment was offered.

Several phone calls to Phipps, Jamaica’s ambassador to Cuba, on Sunday went unanswered.