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The Alliance Française a cultural bridge between France and Cuba
The great columns of Cienfuegos´ French buildings, José Martí retracing Havana´s streets with the free, fraternal, and inclusive verbs of Victor Hugo, could all serve as referents to the presence of French culture in Cuba. But they are not the only ones. French influence on the island is longstanding and can be appreciated on multiple artistic, political, and social levels.

During this year´s Francophone Week in Havana, André de Ubeda, general director of this center, told Granma International of his profound admiration for Cubans´ interest in participating in the educational work of the Alliance.

He noted the historic ties between the two countries and attempts to create an institution of this type when Cuba was a Spanish colony. "L´Alliance Française attempted to establish itself on the island in 1892, just nine years after its creation in Paris; but it wasn´t until 1952 that this intention became a reality. This was due to the existence of important French influences in this country; and many Cubans also went to France, where they too left a substantial mark. There are important bridges of sisterhood and fraternity between the two countries from a cultural and educational point of view."

When the Revolution triumphed in 1959, the Cuban government recognized the importance of this center in promoting French culture and insisted on its presence in Havana (image). Since then the institute has boomed, making it a focus for close collaboration between the two countries. The center is growing considerably and consistently. Ten years ago we had around 2,000 students and today there are more than 6,000 in Havana, plus a further 1,000 in Santiago de Cuba, the institution´s second center, which opened in 1992."

From an pedagogical and infrastructural point of view, the Cuban Ministry of Education (MINED) works in conjunction with L´Alliance in terms of the development of these types of centers outside of France. According to André, "the Alliance is recognized by the state and its institutions. On the educational level, the results are so spectacular that when Jack Lang, French President Nicolas Sarkozy´s envoy came here, he was surprised at the language level of the students and the quality of the professors."

The fundamental work of L´Alliance is teaching the French language through different courses and levels. However, it is an important participant in the cultural sphere as well, with events like Francophone Week, the French Song Competition, and the French Film Festival. Even so, the director considers that "it´s possible to further extend cultural activities and exchanges. The Alliance exists not only to provide knowledge about French culture but also to create openings between the cultures of the two countries and have them confront each other in order to enrich each one of them.

The majority of the teachers in this educational and cultural center are Cuban. According to André, this feature "is very particular to the island because in other countries there are not so many local professors. I say that with great pride and peace of mind. They are very high quality. Many have studied in national universities or in language schools. In some cases they are former students of ours and we trained them as future professors, later recognized not only by the Alliance but also by MINED. The center has 75 teachers in Havana and 13 in Santiago. In addition, we have students with the best results in the world, taking into consideration the Common European Framework of Reference exams."

Along the same line, the principal achievement for Professor Carlos Sánchez, who has been teaching at the center for five years, is precisely that the majority of his students have passed the international exams. "It´s a great achievement for any professor and for the Alliance, which has a 90%-plus pass rate in its examinations," he said.

The institution is mainly for adults, although students can enroll when they turn 16. According to Jacqueline Machado, teaching secretary, the students are generally aged under 40, but older adults also enroll. "There is an interest in the French language in Cuba, which has occupied an important spot after English. There is a notable interest in the study of the French language but also its culture," she stated.

As for research work, the Cuban teachers have developed three teaching methods that are used in various countries: two for medical students and one for tourism specialists. André pointed out, however, that more financial resources are always needed to make it better; and this is a joint problem for the two countries. Although there is an excellent project of cooperation, we lack space and professors for the 2,000 students that can´t matriculate each year in the annual course. Despite that, the Alliance Française is well equipped with DVD players, televisions, CD players and recorders in the classrooms. They also have a media lab with more than 11,500 documents in French and Spanish.

The student´s interest in enveloping themselves in the Alliance´s French speaking world is directly related to the high degree of sensitivity toward the French culture and the possibility of gaining access to better jobs. The impulse to study the language comes from the need they feel to more closely know the culture of this country and its contribution to the development of humanity.

For Idalgel Marquetti, a first year student at the Superior Art Institute, knowledge of other languages is important because it widens the possibilities for work.

The Cuban Alliance was opened to be an extension of French culture in the heart of the Hispanic world. To contribute to enriching spirits in all of its expressions and promoting the exchange between two peoples is its more transcendental mission.


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