Chants of “SOS Cuba,” “Patria y Vida,” and “Libertad” rang out along the banks of the Ohio River Tuesday night during an anti-Cuban government demonstration in Louisville.
Louisville’s Cuban American population has grown rapidly in recent years, becoming one of the largest in the United States. Hundreds of those community members rallied together under the Big Four Bridge for an evening of speeches, prayer and music to show support for protesters back in their homeland.
People took to the streets in several cities across Cuba this week due, in part, to the country’s declining economy and health care system, including the government’s handling of COVID-19. But Berta Weyenberg, president of the Cuban American Association of Kentucky, said frustrations with the Cuban government have been growing since Fidel Castro’s communist regime took over in 1959. Castro’s brother, Raul, led the country before being succeeded by current President Miguel Díaz-Canel.
“For 62 years, Cuba has been suffering under the Castro regime, and finally, the situation with COVID became the last drop for people to understand that the only way to get free is to take the streets,” Weyenberg said. “Let’s remember that Cubans don’t have arms to fight or defend themselves, so all they have is their voices and chanting, ‘Down with the government.’”
Demonstrations broke out in Cuba on Sunday, and Weyenberg said it caused a “domino effect” across the country in the days that followed. She said that it’s the largest anti-government uprising she’s seen in Cuba.
“My hope for Cuba is that this is the moment when we finally get freedom,” Weyenberg said. “It’s now or never, because we never had this big [of a] movement.”
But unlike Tuesday’s gathering in Louisville, protesters in Cuba are being met with violence by the government and police. Social media sites have been blocked in the country, slowing the spread of information about the demonstrations.
Darien Barrios moved to Louisville from Cuba in 2007. He said the Cuban government is actively harming its citizens, and called on President Joe Biden’s administration to intervene.
“The Cuban people, they need freedom,” Barrios said. “They need liberty of speech, and they can’t do it, because the Cuban regime has been in power for 62 years. In this moment, they don’t care about the Cuban people. They just care about the power. They want to stay in power.”
Concerns over Cuba’s health care system have also fueled the recent protests. COVID-19 cases have ballooned to record highs in recent weeks, and vaccines and basic medicines are in low supply.
Marea Rodriguez said her mother is one of the many suffering from the shortages.
“My mom, she wakes up every morning with a different pain and no medicine,” Rodriguez said. “And that’s not fair. Imagine a daughter seeing her mom so far [away], and you cannot do anything.”
On Tuesday, Rodriguez arrived at the protest with a large caravan of about a dozen tow trucks, each honking and waving signs calling for freedom in Cuba. Rodriguez said their intention was to be as loud as possible.
To make progress in Cuba, she said it’s important to get the attention of Americans from every background.
“The government, they want to show the world a picture that is not real,” Rodriguez said. “The real thing is what is happening right now in Cuba, what people are seeing through the internet — people dying, people fighting with the police, and a government that is doing nothing for the people.”