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People take to streets of Cuba and Miami, demanding freedom for struggling island nation

As word of what was happening in Cuba spread, South Florida’s Cuban exile community came together on Southwest 8th Street in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, in front of Versailles Restaurant, to show their support for those on the island.
As word of what was happening in Cuba spread, South Florida’s Cuban exile community came together on Southwest 8th Street in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, in front of Versailles Restaurant, to show their support for those on the island.

MIAMI – Major and historic changes could be on the horizon in Cuba. Thousands of Cubans took to the streets in the island nation Sunday to protest against the government of Miguel Díaz Canel.

They marched on Havana’s Malecon promenade and elsewhere on the island to protest food shortages and high prices amid the coronavirus crisis, in one of the biggest anti-government demonstrations in memory.

In social media posts, you can see and hear the Cubans marching and shouting “Patria y Vida” o “Queremos vacunas” y “Libertad, ” “We want vaccines” and “We want freedom.”

As word of what was happening in Cuba spread, South Florida’s Cuban exile community came together on Southwest 8th Street in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, in front of Versailles Restaurant, to show their support for those on the island.

Cuban rally outside Cafe Versailles in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood. (WPLG)

“I want ... the president to see something and do something for Cuba now,” one of the South Florida protesters said. “Because this is the moment, if not they’re going to kill the people in Cuba, and this is gonna be for nothing.”

Miami police shut down a portion of Southwest 8th Street over safety concerns and to give people the proper space to demonstrate.

This comes as an outbreak of COVID-19 cases was announced this week in the Matanzas province and the recent economic crisis and the collapse of health institutions come to a head.

“It’s been a long time coming — we just want to be free,” a South Florida protester said. “COVID is real bad [on the island], we don’t have vaccines we don’t have supplies in hospitals, people are dying. So we just want to give back to our people, because we come from that struggle. We come from that part of the country.”

Hundreds of Cubans were seen marching and chanting near Havana, Artemisa and Sanitago de Cuba.

Although many tried to take out their cellphones and broadcast the protest live, Cuban authorities shut down internet service throughout the afternoon.

About 2 1/2 hours into the march on the island, some protesters pulled up cobblestones and threw them at police, at which point officers began arresting people and the marchers dispersed.

Associated Press journalists counted at least 20 people who were taken away in police cars or by individuals in civilian clothes.

President Miguel Diaz Canel said he was “willing to do anything” and called on “revolutionaries across the country” to “mobilize and stop these provocations.”

He once again blamed the United States for being behind the protests, saying: “Let no one be in any doubt, they want to create an incident to justify an intervention.”

President Joe Biden released a statement Monday morning, saying:

“We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime. The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected. The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.”

South Florida politicians — including Sen. Marco Rubio, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava — also expressed their support of the protests.

Suarez used a bullhorn to express his solidarity, and Levine Cava was moved to make an impromptu appearance.

“I hope that all of this incredible support will help move the island to freedom,” she said. “I hope that we’re going to be able to bring democracy to Cuba with this effort.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis also wrote on Twitter that “Florida supports the people of Cuba as they take to the streets against the tyrannical regime in Havana.”


About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

Terrell Forney joined Local 10 News in October 2005 as a general assignment reporter. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but a desire to escape the harsh winters of the north brought him to South Florida.