THE BLOG
06/20/2014 12:19 pm ET Updated Aug 20, 2014

Bullying: A Serious Problem in Cuban Schools

Havana | 20 June 2014 -- Damaris is almost 40 and has several scars on her face. They were made by a 5th grade classmate with a hair clip. They were in the middle of class and a dispute over the ownership of a pen led the opponent to scream, "I'll be waiting for you at four-thirty!" This is the worst threat a student can receive in a Cuban elementary school. The phrase lets you know that when school gets out strength and supremacy will be proved with fists or fingernails.

For Yosniel it was worse. He jumped from a water tank at the People's Republic of Romania High School, after months of ridicule about the size of his head from his classmates in the dorm. He fell on concrete and no effort at resuscitation was able to save him. The next day, during the funeral, the very students who had ridiculed him offered their condolences to the bereaved family in the impoverished Romerillo neighborhood.

However, the problem touches both the poor and the better-off. The cold metal of a knife pierced the heart of Adrian, also a high school boarding student, because another student, stronger than he, decided he wanted his Converse sneakers. The parents of the dead boy were in the military, but even so they could not understand how the schools that were supposed to form the "New Man" could end up functioning with the same bullying as in prisons.

Cecilia, meanwhile, was always one of the ones who hit... not one of those who was hit. She would choose which uniform skirt she wanted, searching the lockers of the weaker and smaller students. One day she met her match in a skinny little gap-toothed girl who -- with a knife improvised from a hacksaw blade -- slit her face from ear to ear.

Abuse at school, bullying, is an issue that is rarely discussed in the national media, but it affects hundreds, even thousands, of students across the country. Among the most alarming characteristics of this problem is the complicity or indifference on the part of the teachers. Often the teachers support "these tough guys and girls" in order to control the rest of the students. The result is an institutional validation of a structure of bravado and abuse.

How can it be reported? No one knows. There is no telephone number that a student victim of bullying can call. There is no Ministry of Education circular protecting the victims in these cases. The parents usually respond to their children's complaints of abuse with "hit him harder" or "show them who you are." The teachers don't want to get in the middle of a dispute and many school directors respond defensively, "You can imagine, I no longer know what to do with this boy."

The truth is that the drama of school abuse is not reported, debated, questioned... meanwhile, the many Cecilias who are out there continue taking smaller children's uniforms, cutting classmate's faces with a blade, or mocking -- to the point of suicide -- the head size of another.