By Adrianna Adame
Some local Cuban and Cuban Americans are actively protesting against the Cuban government, urgently calling for freedom as people continue to starve and suffer from the country’s lack of medical resources.
They vocally showed their sympathy towards the dire and oppressive conditions that protesters have to live with, such as imprisonment for challenging the government, during a protest outside Syracuse City Hall last month.
Esther Leyva, a 21-year-old student at SUNY Cobleskill and Syracuse resident, organized the July 15 protest because she said that she felt like the protests in Cuba and the issues that the Cuban people are currently going through weren’t being covered enough in the media. Around 35 to 40 participated, holding signs and demanding for the Cuban government to give Cuban citizens their freedom, as well as to stop the starvation and lack of access to COVID-19 vaccinations.
Leyva said she, her friends and co-workers wanted to get the word out about what is currently occurring in Cuba, so they formed the Syracuse Cuban Protest group on Facebook.
The protests in Cuba have been an emotional rollercoaster for those within Syracuse’s Cuban and Cuban American community. For Leyva, a first-generation Cuban American, the protests hit home.
“When I first read news about it, it really did strike me in the heart,” Leyva said. “I cried for a while, not only because of seeing the reaction of how the government was and how they were beating people. That was so sad and so tragic, and it hurt us a lot.”
Roberto Luis Perez, 50, an adjunct instructor at Syracuse University, immigrated from Cuba in 2002 so he could travel around the world, something that most Cubans are unable to do unless it’s related to their profession.
“It’s very difficult for any person that has connection to Cuba, or was for a while a Cuban national like I was. It’s very difficult to watch what is happening and what’s going on,” Perez said.
Some Cuban and Cuban Americans in Syracuse discussed the need for political reform in Cuba. Perez said that he is ready to see his home country change after 62 years of the same government rule.
Gladys McCormick, a history professor at Syracuse University who specializes in 19th and 20th century Mexico, as well as Latin America and the Caribbean, said residents in Cuba may have been inspired by other Latin American residents to protest against the corruption of their government.
Over the last few years, McCormick said she recognizes a pattern in such protests, calling for institutional change in Latin America. This pattern can be seen in the case of Chile in 2019 for its constitution and Mexico due to poor infrastructure, the latter of which was sparked by a fatal train crash in Mexico City, killing 26 people in May.
“They are calling for political change. They are not revolutions; they are not necessarily calling for a toppling of the government, but they’re calling for opening. They are calling for a sort of change within the institution,” McCormick said.
As Cuba continues to protest, the Cuban and Cuban American community within Syracuse will continue to support those who are fighting for their rights.
“People are just fighting for freedom,” Leyva said. “They want freedom.”
Adrianna Adame is a graduate journalism student at the Newhouse School