Orange County

‘I am a product of history’: Orlando rallies in support of Cuba

ORLANDO, Fla. — Monday marked an emotional day for many people in the Cuban-American community around Central Florida.

One after another, rallies erupted on street corners across Orlando as people who fled the dictator-run island shouted in support of their friends and family back home.

“We have to say that we are pressing,” Xander Bema, who has lived in the United States for more than 20 years, said. “We are far away from our land, but we don’t forget.”

Photos: Orlando rallies in support of Cuba

The protests even drew members of the young generation who had never seen the country for themselves.

“I am a product of history,” Tiffany Rodriguez, whose grandparents fled to America, explained when asked why she came out. “I am the reason why a bunch of Cubans are still fighting.”

Rodriguez added that she didn’t know how many family members were left to starve and are without medical care. The lack of food and medical supplies was the reason for anti-government demonstrations throughout the island on Sunday, though tensions have been rising through 62 years of communist rule and economic hardship.

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The surprise movement touched a nerve among some of Orlando’s most prominent voices, including Dr. Raul Pino, Orange County’s health leader.

“It just hurts. All my family’s there,” Pino said. “I’m the only one here. And I haven’t been able to talk or text or anything since yesterday. I received a cryptic text from my sister.”

Pino said the regime had shown its “true face,” saying there was even a lack of aspirin on the island to treat headaches.

As many Americans turn down vaccine doses, he said, none of his family members had even been offered the opportunity to get vaccinated. Cuba’s rate of cases has spiked in recent weeks.

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Despite the political rivalry between the island and the U.S., he said he was disappointed in President Joe Biden’s response to the protests and that now was the time for Washington to show what this country was all about.

“Give [Cuba] 22 million doses of vaccine,” he said. “We all the syringes that they need. That’s the best way to show what American can do.”

Pino’s comments were echoed by those who stood on city sidewalks waving Cuban flags on Monday.

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“We don’t know [how to bring down the regime],” Jasmy Hernandez said. “The only thing that we need [is] help.”