Cuban flags flew proudly last July and August as Americans kept track of protests that rocked the island nation just 100 miles to the south of Florida. The turmoil sparked demonstrations in numerous American cities, especially in Florida.
Dany Abreu participated in a protest on UF campus at the corner of University Avenue and 13th Street on July 25. Along with family and friends, the group cried “Abajo la dictadura,” and Abreu’s wife Yochani even wore a Statue of Liberty outfit.
Abreu came to the United States from Cuba and has kept track of events even as national and local interest lagged. He says events in Cuba continue to impact America, and the situation remains as tense as last summer.
“People are very afraid to go out again because they are militarizing all the cities,” Abreu said in a phone interview.
Since August, Cuba has mostly faded from attention as other stories grabbed attention—from the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan to the omicron surge and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Lillian Guerra teaches on Cuban and Caribbean history at UF. She said Americans have tired of Cuba.
“I think there’s a great deal of crisis fatigue among Americans when it comes to Cuba, because Cuba has been in a nonstop crisis mode since 1991,” Guerra said.
And Cuba’s crisis continues to impact the states. In February, the U.S. government recorded the highest single-month total of Cuban migrants trying to enter at the southern border—16,531.
The influx comes from changes on the island prompted by the summer protests, according to Guerra.
In November, Cuba opened relations with Nicaragua, allowing citizens to travel freely between the two nations without a visa. Reuters recently reported that many Cubans are using the option to enter the continent and then travel up to America, causing airline prices between the countries to quadruple.
Guerra said Cuba wants dissenters to leave in order to relieve internal pressure and prevent another series of protests. The open doorway also allows much needed supplies to enter.
Guerra called the relationship between Cuba and Nicaragua one dictatorship helping another.
Cuba’s international relations changed with the European Union as well.
“The vote in the European Union Council to sanction Cuba and to condemn Cuba was sort of monumental,” Guerra said. “That happened several months ago, but it wasn’t immediately acted upon by corresponding measures in the United States.”
In May 2021, Cuba held 145 political prisoners, according to Spanish nonprofit Prisoners Defenders. Since May, Prisoner Defenders reports an increase of 1,218 new political prisoners—mostly from the July protests.
Prisoner Defenders says at least 167 of those have already been charged with sedition, including nine minors. The nonprofit reports 27 other minors being held as political prisoners.
Guerra says these are collective trials—not done on an individual basis—and lack representation. A lawyer’s job in Cuba is to defend the revolution before any client, leading to what Guerra estimates is a 97% conviction rate.
Abreu tries to raise awareness through Facebook, a YouTube channel and discussions at work.
Cuba may sweep back into the news cycle through another round of summer protests or something unforeseen, but for Abreu, the burden lies on the shoulders of those still in Cuba.
“I mean, the people in Cuba have to go out again and do it again to get attention,” Abreu said.
The situation, Abreu said, still warrants protests, but with so many people leaving, he worries not enough strength remains to demonstrate.
Guerra called the on and off nature of American interest and news headlines unhelpful and prevents a strong grass roots movement. Without that movement, many U.S. officials lack initiative to change American policy.
“I think also our culture in the U.S. is one where we only care about other countries and other people’s problems when they affect us,” Guerra said. “And so, most Americans don’t see a need to be concerned.”