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Cubans in Cleveland wait for updates after protests

Internet outage makes connecting difficult
Cuba Protests
Posted at 5:05 PM, Jul 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-12 18:32:26-04

CLEVELAND — Protests over the weekend in Cuba have Cubans in Northeast Ohio worried. With an internet outage in the island county, updates are slow to get out.

"They're saying we've had enough," said Justo Saborit, a local Cuban musician. Saborit and his family left the country in 1970 as refugees. Despite the internet outage, he gets updates and sees videos from the protests that stretch beyond the capital of Havana.

"This is probably the worst it's been. They don't have enough to eat," Saborit said.

Thousands of Cubans marched on Havana’s Malecon promenade and elsewhere on the island Sunday to protest food shortages and high prices amid the coronavirus crisis, in one of biggest anti-government demonstrations in memory.

"They make basically 2,000 (Cuban) pesos a month and a pound of pork is 75 pesos," Saborit said about the stress on citizens to get access to affordable food. "So, you know, you do the math, how do we really live?"

Many young people took part in the afternoon protest in the capitol, which disrupted traffic until police moved in after several hours and broke up the march when a few protesters threw rocks.

President Joe Biden on Monday called protests in Cuba “remarkable” and a “clarion call for freedom.”

The U.S. - Cuba relationship has been tumultuous. A U.S. embargo against the country started in 1962. The comments marked a notable change in tone from Biden’s old boss, Barack Obama, who as president sought to ease decades of tensions between Washington and Havana while loosening U.S. imposed economic sanctions. It was an effort that was reversed by Republican President Donald Trump, who partially rolled back Obama’s rapprochement, limiting U.S. travel to the island, banning American financial transactions with dozens of enterprises, and more.

"It's absolutely a big deal right now because they're very controlled," he said. "It's a very controlled environment."

Cuba is a communist country which spent nearly 50 years under the leadership of Fidel Castro.

Demonstrations were also held elsewhere on the island, including the small town of San Antonio de los Banos, where people protested power outages and were visited by President Miguel Díaz-Canel. He entered a few homes, where he took questions from residents.

Afterward, though, he accused Cubans of stirring up trouble.

“As if pandemic outbreaks had not existed all over the world, the Cuban-American mafia, paying very well on social networks to influencers and Youtubers, has created a whole campaign ... and has called for demonstrations across the country,” Diaz-Canel told reporters.

The Cuban community in Northeast Ohio is smaller than communities from other Latin American countries.

"I know around 15, 20 Cubans," said Augusto Bordelois about the community around Cleveland. "Like Cubans born in Cuba."

Despite how small the group is, the impact of a social disruption by Cuban civilians resonates.

"This is where they have to do they have to protest," he said.

Bordelois left Cuba in 1999 to teach at Cleveland State University. He saw the protests a few years before.

"There was no food," he said. "The food was rotting in the countryside because there was no way to move it to the city and people were going blind ... We were going, like, paralyzed for lack of protein and vitamins."

The teacher and artist knows nothing is as simple as it seems on the island.

"It is hard for me from here just to figure out what it is," he said trying to discern what is happening inside Cuba from friends and family.

For him, Sunday was different from the protests in the 1990s

"It was not an uprising," he said. "It was people complaining."

But, he is worried for Cuba if it continues.

"I'm afraid what could happen to my family in a situation like that," he said.

On Sunday, about 300 pro-government protesters arrived with a large Cuban flag, shouting slogans in favor of the late President Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution. Some assaulted an AP videojournalist, smashing his camera. AP photojournalist Ramón Espinosa was then beaten by a group of police officers in uniforms and civilian clothes; he suffered a broken nose and an eye injury. Large contingents of Cuban police patrolled the capital of Havana on Monday following protests.

The U.S. urges the Cuban government to serve their people "rather than enriching themselves,″ Biden said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.