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Unrest Continues In Cuba

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Historic protests erupted in Cuba last week. In cities all over the country, thousands of demonstrators came out onto the streets, all united by the same chant.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The word they are repeating is freedom. Cuba faces a series of crises - rising COVID infections and deaths, an economy further devastated by the pandemic and massive food shortages. Joining us now is Abraham Jimenez Enoa. He's a Cuban columnist for The Washington Post based in Havana. He is speaking in Spanish and translation is being provided by NPR's Fernando Narau (ph). Welcome to the program. Buenos dias.

ABRAHAM JIMENEZ ENOA: Buenos dias, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is the latest from Havana? We are seeing reports of the government cracking down on dissent, even shutting down the Internet for some time. What are you feeling now? What are you seeing?

ENOA: (Through interpreter) Yeah, there's a lot of tension and a lot of nervousness. And there's a sort of haunt in the streets. And the regime is going into the homes of the protesters that have been identified but were able to escape arrest. They've been identified through videos, as well as through the interrogations of others who were released after being detained. The latest figures we're hearing say that there's some 5,000 people who have been detained or have disappeared. And just as the protests began, the regime cut off Internet access as part of their strategy to quell dissent. And to this day, there's still a lot of people without access, and that means that they have not been able to share what happened.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you feel personally at risk?

ENOA: (Through interpreter) I do. Obviously, I get detained and interrogated constantly, and my phone is tapped. But because of what just happened, the risk and the pressure feels like it's seven times what I live with normally.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You wrote in a recent column that, we Cubans can't stand this regime anymore. And our frustration is boiling over. A country with severe shortages of food and medicine, with a collapsed health care system under COVID-19, plus power outages and increased political repression has finally exploded. What drove people to this boiling point?

ENOA: (Through interpreter) It's been tough for months in Cuba because of the economic sanctions that President Trump imposed. Over 240 of them that deeply hurt the country, both economically and financially, on top of the historic inability of the Cuban government to provide for its citizens. We have gone like this for months, where just getting a plate of food on a daily basis is an odyssey. If you get sick, you cannot even find an aspirin to take. It's a whole country without medicine. The stores and markets are truly barren, and there are also constant blackouts. That really drove people to the edge because, of course, if you don't have food, if you don't have medicine - you live without electricity - you don't really have a life. Those are basic needs, and that's why people took to the streets. But it's important to point out that it was not just the current situation but an accumulation of the repression, a lack of freedom, a lack of rights that the people have experienced during those six decades of the Cuban dictatorship.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What would you like to see the United States do? We just heard President Joe Biden say that he would not be allowing remittances to return to Cuba after President Trump banned them. What aid would you like to see from the United States?

ENOA: (Through interpreter) The relations between the United States and Cuba are like a spider web. On one side, it's true that the embargo is not a myth. It really affects the people of Cuba. But it's obvious, as well, that the embargo is not the only thing responsible for the current state of the country. I'd say the embargo is, like, 30% of the problem, and the other 70% is the ineptitude and management of the Cuban government and its authoritarianism.

I'm not in favor with this movement that started in Florida, though, especially among Cuban Americans who advocate for a military intervention, who advocate for making sanctions on Cuba even tougher. In the end, none of those measures end up hurting the people in power. They still have food; they still have medicines. They have money and live like kings. Tougher sanctions only affect the ordinary citizens, including those of us who are fighting to change the current system. So I think Biden should not sit down and negotiate with the Cuban government because it would lend it a sense of legitimacy and symbolic backing that would facilitate more repression. But I do think that those measures that affect ordinary people should be lifted. And they could help empower and help those of us who are trying to change things.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let me ask you this, finally. Do you think this repression, everything that's being done to sort of quell these protests, will work? Or do you think that people are in such a state that they're willing to defy all these measures?

ENOA: (Through interpreter) I think that there's no way back from this. The Cuban government showed what it's capable of and displayed its more violent face. They opened fire against their people. They beat up children and elderly people that came out to express their frustrations. So I think going forward, this country will not be the same. It has changed. There's a change in mentality. We've lost the fear, but I still see a lot of suffering and a lot of blood that will be spilled. We are the majority. We are against the government, but that small minority holds all the power. So sadly, I don't think that what's about to come will have a happy ending.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Abraham Jimenez Enoa, a columnist for The Washington Post based in Havana with thanks for the translation to NPR's Fernando Narau. Thank you very much for speaking with us. (Speaking Spanish).

ENOA: (Speaking Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.