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Cuban Activists Are Taking To Miami's Streets Each Night In Support Of Cuba Protests

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

This week has seen unprecedented protests in Cuba against the government of President Miguel Diaz-Canel. Cubans are upset over the nation's poor economy, over food and fuel shortages, and they're also demanding greater freedoms from their government. These protests have also invigorated the Cuban diaspora around the world, especially in Miami. People there have been taking to the streets each night to make their voices heard, as NPR's Adrian Florido reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEMONSTRATION)

UNIDENTIFIED DEMONSTRATORS: (Chanting in Spanish).

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: There have been demonstrations across Miami, but the main ones have been outside the city's most storied Cuban restaurant - Cafe Versailles.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEMONSTRATION)

UNIDENTIFIED DEMONSTRATORS: (Chanting in Spanish).

FLORIDO: Each night, hundreds of people have come to wave Cuban flags and chant libertad - freedom.

MARIELY REYES: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Mariely Reyes left Cuba seven years ago, frustrated with the communist government she once supported, and that her parents still do, but that she decided offered her daughters no future.

REYES: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "Communism has always taught us equality," Reyes says. "But in Cuba, that equality doesn't exist." She says officials there live well, but the rest of the population is struggling more than ever for food and medicine. Her friend, Yeney Padron, says now that Cubans have shed their fear of arrest and repression to start protesting, Cubans off the island have to support them.

YENEY PADRON: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "They have to know we're with them," she says. "That they aren't alone. From here, that's all we can do." Miami has always been the center of opposition to Cuba's communist revolution, a bastion for conservatives who've waited more than six decades for the government to fall. But those six decades have also changed the Cuban American community in nuanced ways. At these protests, the views are as diverse as the Cuban diaspora itself. Some people, like Maura Caridad Rodriguez Perez, want to see a U.S. military intervention.

MAURA CARIDAD RODRIGUEZ PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "Some people say an intervention will kill people," Rodriquez says. "But people are already dying at the hands of the government." Other protesters, like Gabriela Gutierrez, say that is not the solution.

GABRIELA GUTIERREZ: I don't agree with military intervention because I feel like Cuba deserves a chance for Cubans to actually decide what they want and to make a country for themselves.

FLORIDO: Gutierrez is a student at Florida International University and president of Students for a Free Cuba. She says despite their differences, this week's protests have united Cubans young and old, those who fled for the U.S., those born here, conservatives like her parents and liberals like her.

GUTIERREZ: In the Cuban cause, we can all come under one shared idea that we want Cuba free.

FLORIDO: Michael Bustamante is a professor of history at Florida International University.

MICHAEL BUSTAMANTE: There's certainly, not entirely, but a general agreement in the Cuban diaspora in the United States that things need to change in Cuba, that things need to change politically and economically. I think when you get beyond that basic set of agreements, that's when the conversations get more interesting.

FLORIDO: He says the desire many Cubans in the U.S. have to return gives the diaspora a stake in whatever happens next on the island, and so their opinions and these protests in Miami are important.

BUSTAMANTE: You know, I think the role of the Cuban American community is also to listen - to listen to Cubans who are on the ground, who themselves have diverse points of view and opinions, including those, it must be recognized, who remain supporters of the government that are there.

FLORIDO: He says they are and will remain part of the equation.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEMONSTRATION)

UNIDENTIFIED DEMONSTRATORS: (Chanting in Spanish).

FLORIDO: Outside of Cafe Versailles, Ana Maria Perez came to protest on behalf of her father, who fled Cuba as a child and never saw his mother again. Perez says though she was born here, she inherited that pain.

ANA MARIA PEREZ: It's not enough to say, OK, you're here, move on. It's a wound that doesn't heal because it's not over for us. It continues. We still have family over there, and we still have wounds that are still weeping and still bleeding.

FLORIDO: She doesn't know what'll happen next in Cuba, but she says she wants to be a part of it.

Adrian Florido, NPR News, Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIMECAP1983 AND THE BAD DREAMERS SONG, "BACK TO YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.