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December 2, 2022

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Standing with Cubans demanding freedom

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Jose Luis Magana / AP

Demonstrators shout their solidarity with the Cuban people against the communist government during a rally outside the White House in Washington, Saturday, July 17, 2021.

Like many of his fellow Nevadans who came here from somewhere else, Yovanys Serrano works in the hospitality industry. It’s a considerable step up from one of the least hospitable places on earth.

After years of trying, in 2008 Serrano and his family were finally able to flee Cuba.

His father, a carpenter, had been a political prisoner of the Castro regime, and the family suffered because of it.

As Serrano watched the street protests from the safe and prosperous vantage point of Las Vegas, he still felt a kinship with his imprisoned and impoverished native land. As he sees the crackdown on those protesters, he fears for the fate of those the regime has targeted, and for the uncles and cousins he had to leave behind.

While the demonstrations that spread across more than three dozen cities and towns were initiated in response to shortages of food and COVID-19 vaccines, the underlying motivations ran deep.

The latest deprivations were only the most recent in a long line tracing back more than 60 years, to the birth of the regime and running through decades of oppression.

Of course, every Cuban wants access to health care and to have enough food to feed their family, and they have made their voices heard on those issues.

But as they marched through the streets, they were also chanting “down with communism.” They understand that the socialist and communist policies of their government are to blame for the current economic crisis, as well as for the continuing crisis that has plagued Cuba since 1959.

The corrupt tyranny that has abused human rights, imprisoned its own people, forced tens of thousands into exile, and murdered tens of thousands more wants to shift the blame to others. The people of Cuba know better.

Their courage in the face of that tyranny deserves the support of every freedom-loving American. As we lend our hearts to their cause, it remains their cause. It is the people of Cuba who must chart their own course.

America’s role is to join them in condemnation of their oppressors, to oppose the violence that has been unleashed against protesters, and to demand the right to peaceful protest and free speech.

One practical way to help the protesters engage in free expression is by helping to ensure internet connectivity for the island. Like all tyrannies, one of the first steps the regime took in response to the protests was to shut down access to the internet in an attempt to stop the organizers of peaceful protests.

We can lend a hand, but those protests and any further action must be led by the Cuban people themselves, just as they were the ones who rose up to begin with. That’s the only way to ensure that any change is legitimate in the eyes of the world.

Yovanys Serrano prays for that change. He and his family survived and escaped a regime that used every tool at its disposal to destroy the freedom of the Cuban people. For more than 60 years it has succeeded in sustaining itself in power; but it has not succeeded in destroying Cubans’ aspiration for liberty.

We know that because courageous people have braved arrest and violent retribution to demand freedom for themselves and their neighbors. Many now face the prospect of secret trials and long imprisonment.

We salute their courage, and stand with them in their quest for the freedom and justice they have so long been denied.

Eddie Diaz is community engagement director of The LIBRE Initiative-Nevada.