‘All eyes on Cuba’ : How Cuban Americans see U.S. role in Cuba’s struggle for democracy

The Cuban government successfully thwarted plans for a nationwide pro-democracy demonstration Monday. The communist-led regime targeted organizers of the event — detaining some, surrounding the homes of others, and waging a media campaign to discredit them. John Yang has more on the rising tensions on the island and its impact in the U.S., less than 100 miles away.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Cuban government successfully thwarted plans for a nationwide pro-democracy demonstration yesterday. The communist-led regime targeted organizers of the event, detaining some, surrounding the homes of others and waging a media campaign to discredit them.

    John Yang has more on the rising tensions on the island and the impact here in the U.S.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, yesterday's planned demonstration was to build on this summer's pro-democracy protests. Those were some of biggest Cuba has ever seen and led to a swift government crackdown and reports of thousands of arrests.

    Recently, "NewsHour" producer Ian Couzens spoke with Cuban Americans across the United States about what this democratic push means for them, their families and their community.

  • Bertha Leal, Florida:

    My name is Bertha Leal. I am 35 years old. I live in Miami, Florida. I was born in Cuba, so I am a first-generation Cuban.

  • Raymond Adderly III, Florida:

    My name is Raymond Adderly, 17 years old, and I'm a third-generation Cuban-American.

  • Marlene Batista, California:

    Name is Dr. Marlene Batista. I am 49 years young. I am a first-generation Cuban-American. My parents came from Cuba, and my brothers and I were all born here in the United States, thankfully.

  • Norberto Santana Jr., California:

    My name Is Norberto Santana Jr.

    As a Cuban-American, it was an amazing thing to wake up on July 11 and watch the virtually the entire island of Cuba hit the streets. It's something in Cuba that is extremely risky for people to do.

  • Marlene Batista:

    It's starting to feel very similar to how it did back in the day. They're very scared of who is listening when we talk to them. They're like, everything's fine, don't worry.

    And we're seeing all this stuff on the Internet going like everything's not fine.

  • Bertha Leal:

    We were allowed political refuge because of my mom's political prisoner history. When she was 18, she tried escaping Cuba province, and she was jailed for two years.

    I 100 percent stand with the Cuban people that are demanding their freedom and protesting and being jailed for it.

  • Marlene Batista:

    My friend's cousin told her that she's been keeping her two young boys, late teens, early 20s in the house, because the government is scooping them up and giving them sticks and things to hit the protesters.

    And so, these poor kids, they don't have a choice. So she's keeping her kids inside.

  • Raymond Adderly III:

    I think what the Cuban people need right now more than anything is access to food, access to water, access to medicine and vaccines, access to doctors.

    So, however, the United States can facilitate the Cuban people getting that, those resources. I think that is the main concern right now.

  • Norberto Santana Jr.:

    My thought on President Biden's response has been cautiously optimistic throughout.

    In the beginning, I was extremely glad that he did not join this chorus of people from the left arguing that the culprit of all of this is the U.S. embargo.

  • Bertha Leal:

    What I want to see from Biden's administration is continued pressure, all eyes on Cuba, not letting that dictatorship get away with the human rights atrocities that they have for 62 years, and, most importantly, Internet.

  • Marlene Batista:

    We need to allow them to speak their voice, to continue to have that access to the outside world.

  • Bertha Leal:

    My only hope for Cuba is democracy.

  • Norberto Santana Jr.:

    I wish they would simply open up and allow human rights monitors, journalists and others to walk around in Cuba freely.

  • Raymond Adderly III:

    And to have freedom. Cuba has never been free.

  • John Yang:

    The voices of Cuban-Americans.

    We're now joined by Lillian Guerra, a professor of Cuban and Caribbean history at the University of Florida.

    Thanks so much for being with us.

    Talk a little bit about how the government was able to sort of squash yesterday's planned demonstration. They didn't just crack down on demonstrators once they hit the streets. They prevented them from hitting the streets in the first place.

    Lillian Guerra, University of Florida: They definitely had in the planning using their security forces in league with the Committees for Defense of the Revolution, which are local watch committees. They exist on every block.

    For about 30 years now, they have been pretty passive. But, in the last few years, they have taken command of doing things like going out and cordoning streets, which they did yesterday, also staking out the homes and keeping people under house arrest, not just for a 24-hour period, but for months at a time.

    They taught the victims inside. They intimidate all the neighbors. So, we had about 200 incidents of that yesterday. And it's not expected that any of the activists who organized this will be released from their house arrest any time soon.

  • John Yang:

    Tell us about these activists. How organized are they, and who are they?

  • Lillian Guerra:

    Well, they're — certainly, a lot of them are artists and intellectuals who have been in the game of protesting now for two years.

    This particular group that called for this protest was relatively new. It came out of the July 11 protest. It's called Archipelago. There are 36,000 members. It started on Facebook and so it's really Internet-based; 17,000 of them are in Cuba.

    And, in particular, you have certain members, leaders of this, including a playwright called Yunior Garcia, who has a long history of being a student activist and protested the government leadership to its face years ago.

    Somebody with a camera managed to photograph him as he was standing on his balcony. He took out a white rose, a symbol from the 19th century, and Jose Marti, the great nationalist writings of peace, accord and harmony, and the need for consensus and negotiation.

    And so these are folks who are very committed. And I think that the people who are registered to protest themselves in various cities in Cuba with Archipelago several weeks ago also very committed, but they couldn't leave their homes.

  • John Yang:

    What are the conditions that triggered the protests in July and plans for yesterday?

  • Lillian Guerra:

    Well, in the long term, it's been the total absence of democracy and the inability of Cubans to really have choices over their lives.

    So, that has gotten incrementally worse, not just with poverty rising and then the sort of isolation, economic isolation, to which Cuba's been subject, thanks to the sanctions of the Trump administration. But it's been rising in part because people can't leave the island at all.

    I mean, the U.S. has not been supplying any consular services. The ability to get out of there has really changed the nature of the game. In 2016, we ended this sort of automatic refugee status that we granted Cubans from 1966 to 2016.

    So, you have a pressure cooker there. And you don't have the safety valve of exporting dissent and exporting discontent that the Cuban state has relied on for decades to get rid of really the most vocal and most talented opponents.

  • John Yang:

    What can the Biden administration do, and what should they do?

    They put out statements supporting the efforts for democracy, but what can they do? What more can they do, and what more should they do?

  • Lillian Guerra:

    Well, so far, what we have is words.

    And, effectively, taking the side of the protesters really changed very little. What we need is a statement of policy. We need to have a presence in our embassy there. We need to actually be out there providing consular services and ending the isolation. Bringing Americans to Cuba in any capacity will change the game there, because they bring information, they bring knowledge, they bring goods, they give access and inspiration to entrepreneurs, as well as to activists.

    And this is the kind of thing that the Cuban government cannot control. It cannot control the Internet, no matter what it tries. All it can do is discredit those who use it and try to demonize and criminalize their use.

  • John Yang:

    Lillian Guerra of the University of Florida, thank you very much.

  • Lillian Guerra:

    Thank you.

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