BOISE, Idaho — On July 18th, 2021, Raydel Perez thought it was only going to be him and his family at the front steps of the Capitol in Boise, holding signs to raise awareness about the ongoing, historic protests in Cuba.
“There were, like, 50 people at the Statehouse and people driving by. They would honk at us and tell us that they are with us. That was very comforting, to see the community supports what we believe in,” Perez said.
Perez was born in Cuba and moved with his family to the U.S. when he was 11-years-old. His aunt and uncle are owners of the CasaBlanca Cuban Grill in Boise. Perez helps out by running the restaurant’s social media pages and used the platform to promote the rally.
The family is keeping a close eye on the protests as the island faces food and medicine shortages. The COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified the situation.
Perez said the Cuban protests are about putting an end to the current regime and seeking freedom.
“We are all advocating for Cuba’s freedom,” Perez said. “We don’t want our people to die in the streets for expressing what they feel, their discontent with the government.”
At the rally, the group hopes to educate the public.
“I hear a lot of people say its the U.S. at fault because of the embargo when really it’s the Cuban government. The people aren’t asking to end the embargo. The people of Cuba are asking to end the dictatorship that has kept them from their freedom for the past 62 years,” Perez said.
On July 20th, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held an open hearing on the Cuba protests. José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of the Americas Division of the Human Rights Watch, and Rosa María Payá Acevedo, Director of Cuba Decide, served as witnesses for the hearing.
“The Cuban people are in the street fighting for freedoms, and in at least 45 cities, massive protests took place. This regime has responded with brutal repression causing countless injuries and deaths. On national TV, [Cuban President] Miguel Díaz-Canel has called a war on the street and to fight using any means,” said Payá Acevedo as she addressed the subcommittee.
Payá explained that Cuban protesters are seeking democracy, human rights, and freedom, and the slogan “Patria y Vida” meaning "Homeland and Life" has been used among protesters to opposed the dictatorship on the island.
Congressman Juan Vargas (D-CA), a member of the subcommittee, asked Payá what else could be done besides standing in solidarity with the people of Cuba.
“Rise the cost of the repression, impose targeted sanctions over those that are still commanding repression, give internet access without the censorship of the Cuban regime, apply the Sullivan principles, and take similar approached you took with South Africa to end the apartheid,” Payá said. “Involve the international committee, the European Union, not on the premise of the embargo but the premise of the Cuban people demanding freedom in the streets. I think that would be a fresh approach.”
Other officials raised concerns about the impacts Afro-Cubans and LGBTQ+ Cubans are facing in Cuba. During the hearing, Republican subcommittee member Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar also called for President Joe Biden to take action and provide support for Cuba.
On July 12, the president responded to the protests in Cuba, sharing:
“We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime. The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right to peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected. The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.”
On Facebook, Idaho Senator Mike Crapo also published a statement:
“Thousands of Cubans are mobilizing across their country to rally against the Cuban government’s oppressive communist regime and to fight for the freedoms we as Americans hold dear. As the courageous Cuban people demand the freedoms and justice they have been denied for over 60 years, the United States must stand with them in their fight. I recently joined a resolution with Senator Marco Rubio to stand in solidarity with the people of Cuba as they take up against tyranny and work to bring about positive change in Cuba.”
The second rally will take place on July 25th at 2 p.m. at the front steps at the Capitol building. Perez hopes the community can support their efforts.
“The Cuban people see America as a beacon of hope for their future,” he said.