UF alumna Karolyn Ranero spent the first three years of her life in Cuba. Her immediate family moved to the U.S. after this, but Ranero still has aunts, uncles and siblings there. With her strong cultural ties to the area, she has been closely watching the unrest and anti-government protests that are unraveling.
“The first protest I heard about was in one city, but all of the sudden we were hearing about multiple protests in different cities,” Ranero said.
Ranero says watching these protests unravel was emotional for her and her family. While she says she often hears about the struggles her family and other Cubans are facing, watching these citizens flood the streets was unlike anything she had seen before.
“Seeing masses of people out on the streets crying for liberty and saying that they’re hungry was very emotional for us,” she said.
She also points to the government’s response to these protests. Police brutality and limited access to the internet are a few of the tactics the Cuban government has used in an attempt to suppress the unrest.
“Monday and Tuesday were the days we were least connected to our family in Cuba, and we didn’t hear from them for a while,” Ranero said.
Following this brief period of little communication, Ranero said she has been able to get into contact with family. For now, Ranero wishes to amplify the voices of the Cuban people that are struggling, rather than politicizing the issue.
“Even if we’re [the Florida Cuban community] really emotional about this, it’s ultimately the people in Cuba who are stepping out on the streets at the risk of being arrested to use their voice and protest,” she said.
This sentiment is something that also strikes a chord with former UF Cuban American Student Association President Thalia Fernandez. She also has family in Cuba and says it is unsettling to watch them struggle.
“It’s time for a change,” Fernandez said. “More food, more medications, just a better quality of life.”
Fernandez said the conditions her family members live in are not ideal. One of Fernandez’ family members recently was charged 300$ for one Tylenol to treat back pain.
This is a continuing theme throughout the communist regime in Cuba. Food and fuel shortages along with limited access to medications and COVID vaccines have led many Cubans to struggle in years past.
“COVID is a part of why these protests have broken out, but one of the biggest contributors to these protests is for freedom from this regime,” she said.
Fernandez is adamant about spreading awareness about these issues her fellow Cubans are facing. She said the government has oppressed people in Cuba for over 60 years and she is ready to see a change in this.
“People are dying; there is no food, no clean water, no medicine, there is nothing,” she said.
Fernandez said because there are not many members of CASA in Gainesville, they have been unable to organize a unified protest. However, she said individual members of the CASA community, especially in South Florida, have gone to protests in their own towns and spread awareness on social media.
Nationally, other people in the U.S. are taking action as well. Many individuals from South Florida are caravanning to the nation’s Capitol over the weekend to call on the Biden administration to provide resources to help Cubans in this crisis. According to the Palm Beach Post, protests are being held in cities all over Florida as well, including Miami, West Palm Beach, Lakeland, Pensacola, and Melbourne.