Penn State University said Saturday it would remove a quote by the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro from a campus building following a campaign led by Erik Suarez, an international student at PSU who experienced the effects of a communist regime firsthand in his native Venezuela.
Suarez, a 22-year-old student who fled deteriorating conditions under Venezuela’s socialist government to attend Penn State, said he was inspired to speak out against communism after witnessing mass protests in Cuba by citizens seeking basic supplies like food and water. He described his discovery of the quote on display in Penn State’s Paul Robeson Cultural Center, a student resource building, as a “big shock.”
“I wasn’t expecting to see in Penn State a quote from this dictator that had been repressing the people of Cuba for more than six decades and who was the inspiration for the regime that is repressing my country right now,” Suarez told Fox News. “There was a lot of feelings in that moment because I love my school. My school has given me a lot of opportunities and I have a deep connection with it. Watching it display a Fidel Castro quote hit hard and it was very shocking for me.”
Suarez sparked a social media outcry earlier this week after tweeting an image of the quote. He partnered with several student organizations, including the Penn State College Republicans, to send a formal letter to university president Eric Barron on Thursday requesting the quote’s removal.
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By Saturday afternoon, Suarez received a note from a university official who said the school shared his concerns and would promptly remove the quote. In a statement to Fox News, Penn State University said it had just become aware of the quote display and confirmed it would be removed.
“We agree with the concerns expressed by the student, and the quote is being removed,” the university said in a statement. “We have also reached out directly to inform the student who raised the concern that this is the University’s decision.”
Campus Reform was the first to report on the quote.
Suarez, who first came to PSU in the fall of 2018 and has been active in various university organizations, said he received “mixed opinions” from fellow students about his campaign to remove the quote.
“I found a lot of people who were super supportive, groups on campus that were super supportive, people online that supported me and my cause and were against what Castro represents,” Suarez said. “But I also found a lot of people on campus that see Castro as a person that they should admire.”
“I never expected to hear this kind of rhetoric in the U.S.,” he added.
The rise of anti-government protests in Cuba prompted fierce clashes among U.S. politicians. Republican lawmakers pushed the Biden administration to take immediate steps to support the protestors amid reports of government-led violence, while some progressives, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have argued the decades-long U.S. embargo has played a major role in poor living conditions on the island.
Suarez said he has encountered similar views among students who were critical of his campaign, including some who he said urged him to attend courses to better educate himself on the situation in Cuba.
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The Venezuelan immigrant said signs of support for socialist policies in the U.S. was another key factor in his decision to speak out about the quote.
“I think for some people, they don’t understand how it is until they lived it,” Suarez said. “It’s sad because they’re just pushing for ideals that have been the cause of such misery and death and pain, for me, for Cuba and for many countries around the world that have tried these systems that haven’t worked. It’s very painful. That’s why I stood up and I’m trying to make a change.”
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