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Tampa Residents Rally For Cuban Protesters

A group of people stand in a street intersection waving Cuban flags.
Luis Viera
Around 200 people gathered in Tampa Sunday to show their solidarity with Cuban protesters.

Local and state officials are saying they stand in solidarity with Cuban protesters facing an economic crisis and shortages of food and medicine.

Approximately 200 people in Tampa gathered in front of Jesuit High School Sunday evening to show their solidarity with Cuban protesters calling for an end to the country’s dictatorship.

The local demonstrators waved Cuban flags and played reggaeton music.

“You have so many people for whom this issue is so deeply personal, who just wanted to come out, and just, frankly, wear their heart on their sleeves the way good Latinos do,” said Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera, who attended the rally.

The already struggling Cuban economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and increased U.S. sanctions. Tourism, a key contributor to the island’s income, was already hit by President Donald Trump’s ban on cruises.

The economic crisis has also led to shortages of food and medicine. The lack of basic necessities ignited the protests, which have since grown to include calls for President Miguel Díaz-Canel to step down.

“It's a protest that deals with the right of self-determination with human dignity — the worth of the human individual — as well as an economy that has just continually been savaged,” Viera said.

“And then you have a pandemic in Cuba right now, where the people feel that vaccinations haven't been handled in a way that they should be.”

Other local and state officials also showed support for the protests.

"Tampa stands with the brave people of Cuba, whose ancestors helped build our community. The fight for freedom and against repression is all of our fight," Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said in a statement.

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

“We must stand with the peaceful demonstrators in Cuba as they struggle for theirs — not only freedom from tyranny and dictatorship, but freedom from disease, poverty, and corruption,” Rep. Val Demings wrote on Twitter.

“For 62 years they have lived under a tyrannical regime. One that is not only incompetent, but that lies to them, that blames everything on America, even today,” Sen. Marco Rubio said on Twitter.

“The United States, and no other country in the world, has anything to do with the fact that Cubans of every age in every region organically took to the streets today to have their voices heard.”

But Albert Fox, president of Tampa’s Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, pushed back against the assertion that the U.S. has nothing to do with the island's troubles.

"By cutting everything out — no more cruise ships, you can't send money, you can't send packages — of course that created an economic crisis," he said.

U.S. sanctions on Cuba were tightened during Trump’s time in office. According to NPR, the limits were intended to “further squeeze the Cuban economy while keeping U.S. dollars out of the hands of the communist government.”

So far, the Biden administration has given no indication that it plans to lift the sanctions.

"Every American ought to be outraged at the immorality of having a policy that says squeeze the people. And the more you squeeze, the more desperate they're gonna get,” Fox said.

“Deny them food and medicine, and they'll get so desperate that they'll take to the streets and overthrow the government. That policy is immoral."

While Councilman Viera, the son of two Cuban refugees, recognized the role of sanctions, he said that he intends to listen to demonstrators.

“I think the central issue that we're focusing on right now at this moment is listening to Cuban Americans, listening to the refugee community, listening to the people of Cuba in their quest for freedom, and then seeing what things the United States can do in that regard,” he said.

“If you get two Cuban Americans in a room, you're going to get three political opinions. We're very diverse in our politics. But when it comes to this issue, for Cuban refugees, we're united in our sentiments against the regime and for change right now.”

Viera plans to ask his colleagues on the City Council to support a resolution he’ll introduce Thursday expressing solidarity with Cuban protesters.

Jacob Wentz is the inaugural WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for the summer of 2021.