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NAPLES, Florida – Hundreds of Cubans gathered in south Florida on Tuesday to protest — not the lack of medical supplies in Cuba — but the brutal communist regime abusing their family and friends back home.
Cuban and American flags filled the streets of downtown Naples as protesters joined others around the country and in Cuba to oppose a dictatorship that has gripped the island since 1959, when Fidel Castro took over.
“It is misinformation that COVID [Chinese coronavirus] and hunger is causing the protests in Cuba. That’s not the truth. People are tired of the government. They are tired of not being free, and that’s what they are fighting for,” said protester and local singer Yenier Alvarino, who is part of a musical duo with Adrián Arteaga called Arteaga y El Yen.
Thousands of Cubans took to the streets in at least 20 provinces in Cuba on Sunday to peacefully demand the end of communism. The waves of discontent were captured on social media, which helped Cubans communicate across the country and band together for the island’s largest demonstration in decades.
Though protests have continued, hundreds of people are likely missing and police have reportedly peppered crowds with bullets to subdue opposition. President Miguel Díaz-Canel, the figurehead of the Castro regime, responded to the protests by urging “revolutionaries” to violently assault unarmed protesters on the streets, describing his call as an “order of combat,” Breitbart News reported. In response to Díaz-Canel’s order, both uniformed and plain-clothes police officers have unleashed a wave of repression on protesters that has included shooting at them, attacking them with dogs, and public beatings.
The regime also appeared to shut down internet access to stem the flow of “citizen journalist videos depicting extreme repression.”
“ Yes I do — we all do,” Arteaga said at the Naples protest when Breitbart News asked if he still has family in Cuba. Arteaga said he came to the United States when he was 18 years old “looking for freedom.”
Naples, which is two hours across the state from Miami, has a relatively large Cuban population. Many families move to the beachside town in search of a more suburban lifestyle than Miami offers, and most have relatives and friends still in Cuba.
“It’s really hard. Some of our families only communicate to us through WhatsApp and Facebook. When the internet shuts down, it’s really hard to get ahold of them. That’s what they do, they cut down the internet,” Arteaga said.
Arteaga noted that while the pandemic has ravaged an already-faltering healthcare system in Cuba, increased disease, death, and destruction only brought the country to a “tipping point” after more than 60 years of abuse.
“People are dying of COVID. People are dying of other conditions and they have to stay at home. They have to keep their dead relatives at home because there are no supplies in the morgues. There are no supplies in the hospitals. The power goes off and the generators in the hospitals don’t work and people die,” he said. “Everything, infrastructure, everything in Cuba — it’s at the lowest limit right now. That’s what we’re seeing right now, but it’s always been low. People got tired of it.”
President Joe Biden avoided explicitly condemning communism and Marxist ideology in a Monday statement, though he claimed to “stand with the Cuban people.” Marxism is the philosophical underpinning of communism, the ruling political system in Cuba, and has resulted in the deaths of at least 100 million people over several decades.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that Cuban protesters yelling “freedom!” during anti-communist protests could have actually been demanding “freedom from rising COVID cases.” On Wednesday, Psaki again declined to blame unrest in Cuba on communism, Breitbart News reported.
“People want a new system, a democratic system. We have a dictatorship in Cuba, and we have been having that for years and years,” Arteaga said. “That’s why people are protesting in the streets in Cuba, and that’s why they are giving their lives in Cuba to the hands of the police and the army. They want a radical change in the government of Cuba.”
American corporate media also falsely asserted that the protests were a response to the nation’s handling of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic or economic woes, even as protesters were caught on camera saying slogans such as, “down with communism,” “they [the regime] must leave,” and “fuck Díaz-Canel!” among other anti-government statements.
“I don’t understand why there’s been so much silence on the left on this particular point with regard to what’s happening. We can talk about the vice president, Kamala Harris, going down to Guatemala and places like that where she’s not wanted, supposedly to address the route cause of immigration issues, when we have a humanitarian crisis 45 minutes away from here, and there’s been utter silence,” said Drew-Montez Clark, a U.S. Representative candidate for District 25 in Florida.
“We need to call [communism] for what it is. … We have the radical left in this country that wants to move toward that authoritarianism. They want to move toward socialism and communism. But we have a perfect example in Cuba of what that turns into,” Clark continued, as he waved an American flag at the Tuesday protest.
Many in the crowd, some who braved dangerous waters in flimsy rafts to escape communism in Cuba, expressed the same concerns about the direction of the United States.
“I would say to all of you: communism sounds pretty when you talk about it if you want to promote it,” Arteaga said.
“You can read it in a book and it is beautiful,” Alvarino joined in.
“But in real life, it is suffering. It degrades a society. It oppresses the ones that are not on top, the ones that are not part of the [leadership.],” Arteaga continued. “Coming from a communist country, I can tell you, that’s the last thing you want for a country like America. That’s what many countries in the world are trying to fight against.”
Arteaga said Americans must be very watchful of the government and the culture to make sure communism does not gain a foothold in the United States.
“Don’t believe the good things they say about communism. It’s not real,” he concluded.
“This country is beautiful the way it is okay? Don’t change it,” Alvarino added. “We are working good — this is the best country in the world. So, God Bless America.”