MIAMI – As Cubans have taken to the streets to protest in numbers not seen since before the 1959 revolution, American Cubans challenge the idea that the protests are just economic frustration.
As Cubans have expressed their anger over food and medicine shortages, rising inflation and power outages – amid the challenges of Covid-19 – many chants across the island called for political change and included phrases such as “libertad” (freedom), “We want change” and “Down with dictatorship”.
Many Cuban Americans say this shouldn’t be overlooked.
“For the first time in 62 years, they are risking their lives across the island to hold the regime to account,” said Carmen Peláez, Cuban-American filmmaker and Democratic political consultant. “I am anti-embargo. But it is not about the embargo at the moment. This is not the goal of this fight.
In the United States, Cuban-Americans have different positions on American-Cuban relations, some of which follow the party line. But while conservatives and Republicans are known for their harsher stance against Cuba, some progressives and human rights groups have denounced the Cuban government’s tough stance against activists’ calls for greater freedom of expression.
Many Cuban Americans grew up hearing calls for “libertad” for Cuba on the streets of Miami and other American cities, but they are rarely heard in Cuba. Some Americans of Cuban descent said it was moving to hear the word shouted by so many people on the island.
“Political differences aside, Cuban Americans totally agree and understand that these protests are not about the embargo or even the food shortages. It’s opposition to the regime, ”said Giancarlo Sopo, a conservative media strategist.
“It doesn’t matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat. We all recognize the purpose of these protests, ”Sopo said, adding that the chants called for“ libertad ”.
Cuba has been ruled by a communist government, with a strong grip on society, for more than six decades. While the government has received praise for its ability to provide primary care to its people, it also determines many aspects of people’s lives, including wages, food and internet prices, and their freedom. meeting, expression and the possibility of choosing a president. who does not belong to the Communist Party of Cuba.
After the protests, the Cuban government announced that it would temporarily lift restrictions on the amount of toiletries, food and medicine that Cuban citizens can take home when traveling abroad, but for many protesters on the island, it is a small concession compared to their demands, and disconnected from their basic needs.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel was recently blamed for the protests, saying government failures played a role, though he continues to say the United States is primarily responsible.
Before the protests began on Sunday, public demonstrations of dissent had increased in recent months. In November, authorities interrupted a hunger strike by members of the San Isidro Movement, an artists’ collective, triggering a rare demonstration with hundreds of artists and activists outside the Ministry of Culture. Those who protested formed another group, called 27N.
The leader of the San Isidro Movement, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, went on a hunger strike in May and was forcibly taken to hospital on the seventh day, drawing international attention and condemnation.
In the wake of the protests, the government has come under scrutiny with the shutdown of social media and messaging apps.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Friday urged the Cuban government to respond to protesters’ grievances and called for the speedy release of all those detained.
“I am very concerned about the alleged use of excessive force against demonstrators in Cuba and the arrest of a large number of people, including several journalists,” Bachelet said in a statement. “It is particularly worrying that these are individuals believed to be held incommunicado and those whose whereabouts are not known.
The streets of the capital, Havana, have been quiet in recent days but a strong police presence remains. Since Sunday’s protests, 55 of the 383 people detained across the country have been released, according to Cubalex, a US-based human rights group.
For the Cuban government, the challenge will be to manage the acute economic crisis and pandemic, while responding to human rights concerns and growing calls for “freedom” in Cuba and abroad.
Cuban-American musician Pitbull said in a video widely shared on Twitter that he felt frustrated “to have a platform to talk to the world and not be able to help my own people, not to be able to provide them with food, not to be able to provide them with water, to not being able to provide them with medication. But above all, not being able to help them and really give them what they deserve, which is freedom.
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