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Protests in Cuba: The beginning of the end of repression?

Miami exiles pray at their shrine: 'We have faith that, with God, everything is possible'

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MIAMI | This time, yes, God willing. This time will be “the beginning of the end.”

Conchita Gutierrez of Little Flower Parish in Coral Gables sings the Cuban national anthem at the start of a Mass for Cuba celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Wenski at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity on on July 13, 2021, two days after anti-government protests broke out all over the island.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Conchita Gutierrez of Little Flower Parish in Coral Gables sings the Cuban national anthem at the start of a Mass for Cuba celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Wenski at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity on on July 13, 2021, two days after anti-government protests broke out all over the island.

Pedro Camacho and Marta Trujillo of St. Hugh Parish in Coconut Grove hold a Cuban flag as Archbishop Thomas Wenski celebrates a Mass for Cuba at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity on July 13, 2021, two days after anti-government protests broke out all over the island.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Pedro Camacho and Marta Trujillo of St. Hugh Parish in Coconut Grove hold a Cuban flag as Archbishop Thomas Wenski celebrates a Mass for Cuba at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity on July 13, 2021, two days after anti-government protests broke out all over the island.

With that faith and more hope, Cuban exiles gathered July 13 to pray for freedom in their homeland, two days after unusual and unexpected protests broke out in different cities on the island.

The Mass for justice and peace, celebrated at theNational Shrine of Our Lady of Charity by Archbishop Thomas Wenski — which the mayors of the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County attended — marked the start of a novena of prayer for Cuba that continues tonight, July 14 at 7 p.m. and will last from July 15-22, also at 7 p.m. every night at the shrine.

“The protests will continue,” said Bernardo Soto Sr., sports editor for Actualidad Radio 1040 AM. “The young people have reached the point where they cannot stand it anymore,” he added, citing lack of freedom, food, medicines and vaccines, along with an elevated rate of COVID-19 infections. “They are no longer afraid.”

His words were echoed by Father Fernando Hería, rector of the shrine. “The people can’t stand it anymore. It’s been 62 years,” he said, since the so-called “triumph of the revolution.”

He feels optimistic because those protesting — whose images spread around the world via social media — were young people. “They were born and raised 100% under the (communist) system. They see the injustices,” Father Hería said.

Injustices such as a video of Fidel Castro’s grandson driving his luxurious Mercedes at high rates of speed through the island’s streets, while the population lacks everything. As a result of the protests, the people also saw images of soldiers clad in futuristic uniforms and with the most modern vehicles and equipment. The government can afford to pay for that but not for food and medicines for the people.

The authorities have reacted violently against some of the protesters, including a priest in Camaguey, Castor Jose Alvarez, who was wounded and detained for nearly 24 hours. That’s why it’s possible that “blood will be spilled” as a result of these protests, Father Hería said.

“We’re all praying fervently that won’t be the case,” said the priest, whose uncle was executed by Castro’s forces at the start of the revolution.

He always asked “that there not be vengeance but that there be justice and truth,” Father Hería recalled. The best thing would be that they “leave our people in peace. Take their millions and go.”

“Reconciliation with justice” is what Pedro Camacho wants. He and his wife, Marta Trujillo, brought a Cuban flag to the Mass. Camacho arrived in the United States in 2005; his wife, whose parents were political prisoners, left Cuba via Venezuela in 1979. Camacho worked for the Cuban Church, in youth ministry and the Justice and Peace Commission in the Diocese of Camaguey.

“The reconciliation comes about when the guilty one recognizes himself as such and asks for forgiveness,” said Camacho, a member of St. Hugh Parish in Coconut Grove.

He and Trujillo noted the unusual nature of the protests on an island where the government controls everything. “People went out on the streets together shouting freedom!” said Trujillo. “I’ve never before seen what I am seeing now.”

“It’s something new that yes, means a change in the people,” said Camacho. “The level of repression (used by the government against the protesters) expresses the alarm of those in power.”

Wearing a T-shirt with a Marian image and a scarf with the Cuban flag and the country's patroness, people take part in a Mass for Cuba celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Wenski at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity on July 13, 2021, two days after anti-government protests broke out all over the island.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Wearing a T-shirt with a Marian image and a scarf with the Cuban flag and the country's patroness, people take part in a Mass for Cuba celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Wenski at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity on July 13, 2021, two days after anti-government protests broke out all over the island.

And without social media it wouldn’t have happened, they noted, because that’s how people were able to learn about what was happening in the rest of the island and join the protests in different cities. “It’s a sign of the times,” said Camacho.

On Sunday night, the government quickly cut off access to the internet.

According to Camacho, Cubans such as himself, who have joined demonstrations in the diaspora, not only in Miami but throughout the U.S. and in other countries, are trying to “be the voice of those who don’t have voices, be the voice of the people of Cuba.”

But what happens after the protests? Will there really be a change in government? Will the Cuban people finally enjoy the liberty for which they yearn? Experts who study history and scrutinize events on the island don’t have the answers.

Trujillo said “we hope this is the beginning of the end. There are equal possibilities for change or no change. That’s why we’re here … We have faith that, with God, everything is possible.”

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, right, take part in the Mass for Cuba celebrated by the archbishop at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity on July 13, 2021, two days after anti-government protests broke out all over the island. At left are the mayor's mother, Rita Suarez, and his wife (far left) Gloria Font Suarez.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, right, take part in the Mass for Cuba celebrated by the archbishop at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity on July 13, 2021, two days after anti-government protests broke out all over the island. At left are the mayor's mother, Rita Suarez, and his wife (far left) Gloria Font Suarez.

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