‘Si Cuba está en la calle, Miami también.’ Thousands rally for end to Cuban dictatorship

Demonstration at the Freedom Tower
16 July, 2021

Chants of “Patria y Vida” and “Libertad” — rallying cries in solidarity with protesters against the authoritarian government in Cuba — filled the streets outside the Freedom Tower on Biscayne Boulevard on Saturday as around 3,000 people gathered for a rally at the Miami landmark after police blocked off the street.

Draped in Cuban and American flags, the crowd joined in singing “Patria y Vida” — Homeland and Life, an anthem for Cuban freedom — that manipulates a famous slogan of the Cuban government: “Patria o Muerte,” Homeland or Death. Some chanted, “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido” — “a people united can never be divided.”

MIA_Cuban_Protest_Freedom_T (2)Frank Ogbe, 22, participates in a rally at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami on Saturday, July 17, 2021. The rally was held in solidarity with the protests happening in Cuba. MATIAS J. OCNER [email protected]

“We’re here to remember the thousands that we have lost through the years in search of freedom,” said musician Jencarlos Canela, a Hialeah native and son of Cuban immigrants.

Grammy-winning Cuban singer Albita opened the rally with soulful renditions of both the “Star Spangled Banner” and the Cuban National Anthem, as thousands gathered before the stage, clutching their hearts, mouthing along and waving both Cuban and American flags.

The protest, organized by Cuba Freedom Council, a volunteer group affiliated with Cuba Decide, advertised a star-studded line-up of Cuban American personalities, including Emilio Estefan, Canela, singer-songwriter couple Lissette Álvarez and Willy Chirino and others. Inspire America, an organization dedicated to promoting democracy in Cuba and ousting the current regime, obtained the permit for the event.

But despite the musician-heavy list of speakers and the sounds of protesters joining in song, Canela stressed, “This is not a concert.”

“Cuba is not alone!” activist Rosa María Payá shouted toward the crowd in Spanish to roaring support. “We are not afraid. Tonight is about listening to the voices of the Cuban people.”

MIA_Cuban_Protest_Freedom_T (13)Willy Chirino attends a rally at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami on Saturday, July 17, 2021. The rally was held in solidarity with the protests happening in Cuba. MATIAS J. OCNER [email protected]

Payá said the moment was a “call for action” and an “end to the dictatorship” — and called on President Biden and other world leaders to “act using the language of force” against the Cuban government. The crowd began chanting for “intervention.”

“With a dictatorship,” she said, “there is no negotiation.”

Organizers played videos of protests from the streets of San Isidro de Cuba and Havana on two screens set up on either side of the stage.

“When you’re talking about freedom,” Chirino said, “everything must go to the fire, even the arts, to feed the flames.”

Lili Pena, 65, whose family fled Fidel Castro’s regime in 1961, sat in a folding chair toward the back of the crowd in a red-white-and-blue cap, rocking in a stroller her 4-year-old grandson, who clenched a #SOSCuba flag in each fist. The protest marked her sixth of the week — one for each day since July 11, when thousands flooded the streets in Cuba in an unprecedented, spontaneous movement.

“It’s something we’ve been waiting for for a very long time,” said Emily Perez, 16, who heard of the gathering through Instagram and brought her mother as well.

Children sat on the barricades and protesters shouted slogans into bullhorns: “Si Cuba está en la calle, Miami también” — “If Cuba is in the streets, Miami is too.” Other chants called for action from President Joe Biden directly: “Biden, dónde está?” and “Biden ¿Pa’ cuando? Cuba está esperando!”

MIA_Cuban_Protest_Freedom_T (16)Activists participate in a rally at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami on Saturday, July 17, 2021. The rally was held in solidarity with the protests happening in Cuba. MATIAS J. OCNER [email protected]

“What we need for Cuba is freedom,” Pena said. She said she wants to see American politicians send resources to protesters on the island, most urgently access to Internet. “They don’t know what’s happening; they’re blind.”

Cuban American music legend Emilio Estefan told the Herald he has been in touch with representatives from the White House this week, pushing the Biden administration to restore internet access in Cuba.

“Technology is the worst enemy of Cuba,” said Estefan, who has attended three other rallies this week.

With social media and video of police clashes with protesters streaming out of the island, the world is seeing first-hand the government’s repressive forces for the first time, Estefan said. “Internet is the only way.”

When speaking to the crowd of thousands gathered together, Estefan again reinforced the power the internet has during this time for Cuba.

“So many people that have fought for this… historical moment,” he said in Spanish. “The most important thing we have is the internet that has declared what the government has done to Cuba has been shameless.”

MIA_Cuban_Protest_Freedom_T (17)Activists participate in a rally at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami on Saturday, July 17, 2021. The rally was held in solidarity with the protests happening in Cuba. MATIAS J. OCNER [email protected]

He also held a moment of silence for Cuban residents and those who have lost their lives making the trek from Cuba to America.

The protest’s location at the Freedom Tower, a historic landmark and an “Ellis Island of the South” for many Cuban Americans who fled to Miami, held special significance for many.

“We’re not here to celebrate, we’re here to be heard. We’re here to echo their cry. We’re here to talk about the steps toward freedom,” Canela said. “We’re hoping the Miami community comes out in support — from their balconies, on the streets.”

At the end of the rally, the top of the Freedom Tower was lit in the red, white, and blue of the Cuban flag, and the Paramount Miami World Center behind it projected the flag and “Libertad.”

Two priests offered blessings as the thousands gathered knelt on the ground.

“This is God — this unity,” said Canela. “The world is watching.”

SOURCE: miamiherald.com