A few hundred people gathered in downtown Sarasota on Saturday to show solidarity with the protests in Cuba against the totalitarian Communist dictatorship. Local Cuban Americans and others have staged marches and similar rallies since July 11, when thousands of Cubans took to the streets of towns across the island to demand freedom.
The songs of the demonstrators homeland and vida, which means “freedom and life” and “freedom for Cuba” echoed through the city center as they walked down the main street, undeterred by the rain.
Businesses were quiet on a rainy Saturday afternoon, but customers and staff came out of bars and restaurants to show their support.
âOur children are dying this week. They were all killed by the Cuban government. They enter their homes, taking them away. We don’t need food. We need an intervention, âJennifer Shaffer shouted into a megaphone. âAll we ask for is freedom, freedom of speech for all the human rights we are all born with. We just want freedom like all of you who are here. â
In the Tampa Bay area, similar gatherings were held in St. Petersburg and Tampa. In Miami, where rallies cut roads and a major highway, thousands of people gathered outside the Freedom Tower on Saturday.
Meanwhile, in Washington DC, hundreds of people gathered in front of the Cuban Embassy and later the White House shouting, “Joe Biden, do your job” and “Joe Biden, Cuba needs your help” .
âYour children are free in this country. Ours are not. The Cuban people have no weapons. The Cuban people have only sticks and stones. Have you seen the videos? Go to Facebook. You will see the whole genocide, âShaffer also shouted through the megaphone as the crowd stood behind her on Main Street in Sarasota. âWe are frustrated. We don’t want drugs. We want freedom.
Shaffer, 30, came to the United States at the age of 11 and now lives in Sarasota. But like many of those who gathered on Saturday, she still has family in Cuba. One of his cousins ââwas arrested after participating in recent protests in Cuba.
“He was taken to jail when the protests started, but they did not tell us where he was,” Shaffer said, adding that he was finally released on Thursday.
Others were not so lucky.
Hundreds of people in Cuba remain detained or missing since Sunday – including activists, academics and journalists – when the regime deployed police and special forces to silence anti-government protests. Most of those detained remain incommunicado and internet access in the country remains closed.
Mey Paredes, 41, has not heard from relatives since they took part in the July 11 protests.
âI’m absolutely terrified of what’s going on with them. I don’t know where they are, âParedes said. âWe are their voice right now. The government has shut down the Internet so that they cannot communicate with each other or with the outside world to express their feelings. So we are their voice right now. It’s the least we can do by far.
Born in Cuba, Paredes emigrated to the United States in 1986 and settled in Sarasota, where she lives today.
âThey are fighting for their freedom. They want freedom of speech. They want freedom of religion. They are fed up, âParedes said of the more than six decades that Cubans have lived under a totalitarian Communist dictatorship. âThey want freedom. They want to be able to exercise their human rights, the basic human rights, which we all enjoy in this beautiful country called the United States of America.
The demonstrators also shouted: âSi Cuba estÃ¡ en la calle, Sarasota tambiÃ©n. “(If Cuba is on the streets, so is Sarasota”)
Along US 41, cars honked their horns as they passed. A man got out of his car in the rain to join in the cries: âFreedom for Cuba. You deserve it. Freedom for Cuba!
âWe are here today to try to create social awareness and create political pressure,â said George Ortega. âPeople are being murdered. People are dying so we need help. We need the internet right now so they can get organized and connect.
Ortega’s aunt has been in hiding since taking part in the July 11 protests in CamagÃ¼ey.
“They went to her house and tried to get her to suppress the uprising and said she would not participate,” Ortega said. âSo they fired her from her job and they went to her house at night and tried to pick her up at night, but luckily she wasn’t there. She was able to leave and hide.
But her aunt is one of hundreds of brave men and women in Cuba who risk their lives and the lives of their families in the pursuit of freedom.
âPeople are tortured and killed every day. We need the help of the US government and the Biden administration to help these people, âOrtega said. âThey’re trying to talk about COVID and food and access to things and high prices. But it was only the straw that broke the camel’s back. In reality, what people are asking for on the streets is freedom. I have yet to see a Cuban in any demonstration asking for food.
Ortega, 38, was born in Cuba but now lives in Sarasota and works for a local financial institution. He and other local Cuban Americans formed a group called SRQ SOS Cuba.
The group plans to meet at 5:30 p.m. Sunday for a demonstration on Siesta Key beach.