To the Editor:

I was disappointed to read the inaccurate conclusions made by Yale students about Cuban society after their brief and controlled visit to the dictatorship over spring break (“Reach Out provides alternative spring break,” 4/2). The article makes it clear that the studentsâ activities were restricted by the Cuban government, as they were neither allowed to live or eat with Cuban families. Yet Jocelyn Lippert ’04 ironically claims that American perceptions of the island are full of “misinformation” when government restrictions have clearly prevented her from seeing Cuban society in its entirety.

Castro manipulates foreign perceptions of Cuba. When foreigners travel to the island, the Cuban government only allows them to see a segment of society engineered to deflect world criticism.

Lippert paints a rosy picture of the island — free health care, a high literacy rate, and “modest but modern housing.” But if things are not as bad as we think they are, why do hundreds of Cubans attempt to leave the island each year? It appears that Lippert came away from her experience with the exact impression that the government wanted her to get. This is not necessarily her fault, but it is vital to note that her perceptions are the product of a controlled environment and are therefore somewhat limited.

Lippert says that she and the other students “made a big effort to meet people randomly and talk to them.” Because the article does not state otherwise, I assume that Lippert’s conversations with these people confirmed her opinions about American “misinformation.” But after 40 years of dictatorial repression, the Cuban people live in fear and have been conditioned to not speak their mind. Thus, it is unlikely that any rural Cuban would give their true opinions to Americans visiting under the supervision of an oppressive Cuban government.

As the son of a Cuban immigrant, I have always dreamed of visiting the homeland of my relatives, some of whom still reside on the troubled island. But as long as the dictatorship of Fidel Castro exists and continues to cultivate fear among the people, foreign visitors should expect an environment in which their perceptions are highly controlled by the direct and indirect effects of government oppression.

Michael Bustamante ’06

April 2, 2003