Cuba protests draw opposing views in Nova Scotia

·3 min read
Dozens turned out in Halifax on Tuesday evening to show their support for protesters in Cuba calling for better living conditions and more freedoms. (Portia Clark/CBC - image credit)
Dozens turned out in Halifax on Tuesday evening to show their support for protesters in Cuba calling for better living conditions and more freedoms. (Portia Clark/CBC - image credit)

Protests in Cuba earlier this week over living conditions and food shortages brought back painful memories for Halifax resident Yoandri Reyes and his wife, Amanda.

The protests are unusual in a country where dissent is opposed.

Although the couple didn't attend, dozens of people took part in a rally in Halifax on Tuesday night in support of Cuban protesters.

Reyes is Cuban. He met his Canadian wife when she visited Havana.

They tried to live in Cuba after they were married, but conditions on the island proved too much for Amanda.

The couple moved to Canada once Yoandri's Canadian immigration application was approved.

Reyes said he usually communicates with his family in Cuba on the internet, but he hasn't been able to reach them since Cuban authorities cut off social media access for most people in order to curb the protests.

Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters
Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters

Reyes said it's likely his father was one of the people out in the streets.

'No more fear'

He said he was astonished by the scenes of protest he saw on television. The protesters demanded freedom, rights and food on the streets of Cuba.

"It's never happened in 62 years," he said. "People were scared, but right now there is no food .... So when you find yourself without food to feed your kids and without medicine to take care of your family, there's no more fear."

He said he is worried about the fate of the protesters knowing how the Cuban government confronts dissent. But he said he is happy the Cuban people have a voice.

Not everyone in Nova Scotia shares Reyes's views on Cuba.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

Isaac Saney, who heads the transition year program at Dalhousie University and speaks for the Canadian Network on Cuba, said a number of factors are working together to create a difficult environment on the island.

'Perfect storm'

"This is sort of like the combination of what some people call a perfect storm — the impact of the pandemic, which has created a globalized crisis across the world and economic crisis across the world," he said.

Also, Saney blames the ongoing U.S. embargo on Cuba for magnifying the effects of the pandemic.

He said the protesters only represent a small subset of Cuba's population of 11 million people and the protests have been given excessive coverage by western media.

According to Saney, large pro-government demonstrations in Cuba have not garnered the same level of media attention.

He said the Canadian government should demand that the U.S. end its "economic war" against Cuba.

A news release from the Canadian Network On Cuba issued by Saney earlier this week said the United States has funnelled "millions upon millions of dollars" to opposition figures in Cuba with the aim of destabilizing the country.

For his part, Reyes is grateful for his right to speak freely in Canada.

He said in Cuba his family had to endure poverty in silence.

"I wasn't free in my country because they would treat me as a traitor and I would be put in jail, simple as that," Reyes said.

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