Havana protests: Almost my entire family has fled Cuba. But we will not flee any more.

·3 min read
Cuban flags are raised and waved in downtown Fort Myers on Tuesday, July 13, 2021 as part of a march demanding freedom for the Cuban people that are still in Cuba. The event in Fort Myers was called the Walk for Cuba. About 1,000 people attended the event.
Cuban flags are raised and waved in downtown Fort Myers on Tuesday, July 13, 2021 as part of a march demanding freedom for the Cuban people that are still in Cuba. The event in Fort Myers was called the Walk for Cuba. About 1,000 people attended the event.

I was home sick on Sunday, July 11, recuperating from the flu and watching the Euro Cup on television when my social media accounts exploded with images of Cubans filling the streets and protesting with no fear for their lives. Young people chanted "We want freedom."

The protests happened in all corners of this beautiful home country of mine, but especially in Havana. My first thought was this is not possible, this cannot be really happening. I left Cuba in the spring of 1961 and have been waiting and praying for this moment all of my life; Cubans have deep in their minds a trigger that says "someday this will happen" and when it does it will be the beginning of the end of a brutal and unjust regime. You see, we have been waiting six decades for this day to come, the end of the Communist, terror-sponsoring regime of Cuba has started and it must never be able to push the Cuban people down again.

In 1980, 125,000 Cubans left the country in the Mariel boatlift. Again, in the 1994 Exodus, more than 35,000 rafters, or balseros, left Cuba for the United States. This time, the people of Cuba are not interested in leaving on flimsy rafts to seek freedom in Miami and other places. This time, the Cuban people at complete risk to their lives and without any fear – the last element taken away from them – hit the streets to tell the Marxist regime that Communism was dead in Cuba.

Where is my family?

The lies and propaganda of Communism in Cuba have been slowly unraveling over the last three decades. It took the final push from a lack of COVID-19 vaccines, food shortages and blackouts to prompt Cubans of the island to fight and demonstrate for their freedom like never before.

Rick Gonzalez and his daughter, Isabella, in Havana, Cuba, in October 2016.
Rick Gonzalez and his daughter, Isabella, in Havana, Cuba, in October 2016.

According to Amnesty International, 136 people, mostly journalists and activists, have been detained or are missing. Activists and journalists are under house arrest and the government is looking for people who chant "Patria y Vida" – "homeland and life" – as supposed instigators.

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It has been a gut wrenching week. All of my family, consisting of more than 100 relatives, have left Cuba over the decades, except for one aunt and one cousin. Both of them are retired civil servants with a small side business of a one-room Airbnb in their three-room apartment. My family and I are worried because the regime cut off all Internet access on Sunday. Since then, the regime has blocked all communication tools and there has been no way to get in touch with them. We still don't know if they are well, we don't know if something's happened to them. All we can do is wait and pray.

Support the cause of freedom

As we continue to wait, we hope and pray that the U.S. government will take a lead, as we have done on many other occasions when opportunities for promoting democracy arise.

Cuba is just 90 miles from the shores of Florida, so close yet so far away. I hope that we can get Internet access for the Cuban people provided by American satellites, just as public and private organizations did after Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico in 2017.

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Our government could also help the brave people of Cuba by encouraging the leaders of foreign nations that have invested heavily in historic properties and resorts throughout the island to limit the access to capital to the tyrannical government of Cuba unless they respond to the demands of protesters.

Anti-government protesters march in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, July 11, 2021. Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in several cities in Cuba to protest against ongoing food shortages and high prices of foodstuffs.
Anti-government protesters march in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, July 11, 2021. Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in several cities in Cuba to protest against ongoing food shortages and high prices of foodstuffs.

And finally our government should take the lead and contact the Organization of American States and the United Nations Security Council to immediately request meetings and investigations of all the atrocities that the president dictator of Cuba unleashed on the people of Cuba on Sunday night because of their peaceful requests for one thing: Freedom.

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Where are you, President Joe Biden? The people of Cuba need you and the United States now. SOS.

Rick Gonzalez, AIA (American Institute of Architects), is an architect in West Palm Beach, Florida. He is originally from Cuba.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Havana protests: Communism is a dead end. Cubans want life.

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