HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Four months ago on July 11, 2021, Cuban citizens took to its deteriorating streets in frustration of a communist regime, demanding a better way of life. With a deteriorating health care system, censorship and lack basic human rights for over 62 years, Cubans began chanting “Patria y Vida!”
Since 1959, the citizens of Cuba have suffered under a communist dictatorship led by Fidel Castro.
Oppression has taken over the Island paradise, it’s once beautiful streets and architecture are now deteriorating, pieces of the past still very much present, you can’t help to notice what Cuba once was. Now, some would compare it to a war zone.
While people boast of it’s beautiful beaches and dense greenery, people like me, a first generation Cuban in the United States, can’t help but think, “take off the rose colored glasses.”
Four months ago the world saw something historic.
Marissa Daniela, a first generation Cuban-American who was born in the states, is now one of the more popular Cuban-American activist on social media. Not only is she vocal, but she’s helping educate the masses on the reality of the island.
“What we’re seeing is the beginning of an end of the longest dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere,” Marissa said, “What’s sad is that most people on the island, their dream is to leave Cuba, they want to leave their own country.”
Marissa, who only used her first name to protect her safety, has lived in the United States her whole life, but for four years, she lived in Cuba. Because of restrictions, she was there off and on, but more than a majority of those years, she lived on the island, where she started to document on social media the everyday struggles of the Cuban people.
With over 40,000 following her on social media, Marissa has made an impact, shedding a light on Cuban artists, activists and the culture, with people around the world are finally seeing what so many of those who emigrated started to live or lived through.
As luck would have it, in documenting those struggles, Marissa met the love of her life and now her husband, Yoel. When Marisa decided to come back to the states, the process for Yoel wasn’t easy, like for so many Cubans.
“I wanted to document just how difficult life is for an immigrant so I started documenting all of his firsts,” Marissa posted a TikTok of Yoel going to Walmart for the first time, “That video got millions of views just on TikTok, but people took it as, ‘wow we should be so grateful.'”
While many people don’t get to see the ugly truth of what’s happening inside the island, people like myself, Marissa and Yoel, who still have family there see just what kinds of consequences that a protest like the July 11th one have on people under a communist dictatorship.
The days following the initial protest on the island conflicted with what the Cuban government was choosing to tell the public. But, what was once thought to be a Cuban’s fight, became a global one.
People all over the world began holding marches, from the United States, Europe and even here in Huntsville, standing in solidarity with the people of Cuba. While supporters have received backlash or have been gaslighted by many “human rights organizations,” people have not stopped fighting.
“The Cuban people are not protesting America, they’re not protesting the embargo, the American Government has nothing to do with not allowing people to open their own businesses, or to have their own news agencies where they can tell the news, America has nothing to do with Cubans can’t create their own political party, can’t freely elect their leaders, so America has nothing to do with what they’re protesting about,” Marissa told News 19.
As November 15th approaches, there’s one major difference between the two protests. July 11th, 2021 was the Cuban people reaching a breaking point and unplanned,
“What started out as not enough food on the island, turned into something much bigger,” Marissa said.
This time they planned a peaceful protest through the government.
“They went through legal ways to try to do this protest and now the world is watching again that you know, what is going to happen again,” Marissa said, “But, in Cuba anyone with a dissenting view point is a threat to the constitution, which upholds the revolution.”
Freedom of speech on the island, has a price.
“So anyone who you know, wants to speak their own mind, or criticize the government, they either arrest them or house arrest them, so that they don’t go out and report what is happening inside the island, because of course, that’s a threat to their government,” Marissa continued.
The exact number of those who could have lost their lives or were imprisoned for participation in the July 11, protest may never be known. But, Cuba is not the only country in the world suffering from a dictatorship, as many other countries around the world fight for the same freedoms.
When asked how Americans can help or get involved, following Marissa’s profile is one way to get information that comes directly from people off of the island, “Listen to them, follow them, repost them, so people know what’s going on and we can give them that platform and amplify their voices.”
Marissa says it’s our duty as citizens to be aware of our rights and speak up for those who can’t.
“That’s what’s so important about it, to support people who are continuously trying to protect and uphold basic human rights,” Marissa concluded.
Whether or not we’ll see the same turn out as many saw in July is unknown, but, according to some social media traction, the Cuban government has already begun to stand their ground to keep the people from leaving their homes.
Protests for Cuban freedom have already begun in larger cities across the country like Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Dallas.
Over the course of the next couple days, there will be a lot of conflicting things that will be seen, one will be from the Cuban people and the other from the Cuban government, but the hope is always that the truth comes out and change comes from it.
Cuba coverage can be found on the @CubaSpaces twitter.