06/14/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Looking Behind the Stage Set of Cuba's Potemkin's Schools


At a school in Cerro, several foreign visitors were coming to donate notebooks and pencils. Two days beforehand the teacher sat the hardest-working students in the front row and asked them to ask their parents for ornamental plants. The director explained in the morning assembly that while the distinguished guests were with them they couldn't run during recess nor would they allow the sale of candy near the main entrance.

That Wednesday when the delegation arrived at the educational institution, they served chicken for lunch and the classroom televisions didn't show the usual Mexican soap operas, only tele-classes. The fifth grade teacher avoided the red lycra she prefers and came dressed in a warm jacket she'd normally wear to weddings or funerals. Even the young student teacher was different in that she didn't demand that the children, like every other day, give her a share of the snacks they brought from home.

The visit seemed to be going well; the school supplies had been delivered and the modern cars parked outside would soon carry off the smiling group of outsiders. But something unexpected happened: one of the guests broke the predetermined protocol and asked to use the bathroom. The seams of the hasty "cosmetic surgery" that had been applied to the school were evident in that unhealthy space of a few square meters. The months it had gone without cleaning, the clogged sinks, the absence of doors between one stall and another, showed up the farce of normality they'd tried to hard to present.

The spontaneous guest left the bathroom with his face flushed and went without speaking to the exit. After seeing the machinery behind the stage he understood that instead of paper and colored pencils, the next time they should bring disinfectants, cleaning cloths and pay for the services of a plumber.

Yoani's blog, Generation Y, can be read here in English translation.