Special forces police patrol the streets as they drive past a large Cuban flag hanging from the facade of a building, in Havana, Cuba

Protest

For the first time, 'children of the revolution are fighting the revolution' says former US rep

July 26 celebrations in Cuba were dampened by protests, communication shutdowns and COVID-19 restrictions — a completely different experience from previous years' fiery speeches and street parties. Former Florida Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia has been watching events in Cuba closely.

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Special forces police patrol the streets as they drive past a large Cuban flag hanging from the facade of a building, in Havana, Cuba, July 21, 2021.

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Eliana Aponte/AP/File photo

In Cuba, July 26 marks the day when Fidel Castro's rebel fighters launched an attack against then-President Fulgencio Batista in 1953, which then started the communist revolution on the island. Castro successfully ousted Batista from power six years later in 1959.

Cuban officials have typically marked the anniversary with speeches and street parties, but this year has been very different.

Two weeks ago, thousands of people took to the streets, protesting shortages of food and medicine and the overall absence of freedom of expression.

Related: 'Homeland and life': The chant to Cuba’s anti-government protests

Not only are people not in the mood to celebrate, curbs on internet and cellphone services, along with potential arrests and COVID-19 restrictions, have kept the mood somber.

In the US, however, Cubans gathered in Miami and Washington, DC, to protest and call on President Joe Biden to support the Cuban people.

Related: Cuba’s promise of a homegrown COVID-19 vaccine

Former Florida Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia has been watching events in Cuba closely. He's visited Cuba many times since his parents fled, shortly after the revolution. He spoke with The World's host Marco Werman from Miami, on the latest.

Marco Werman: How is July 26 usually celebrated in Cuba? Remind us of the power that is embedded in that date.
Joe Garcia: This is a day when Fidel Castro and the founders of the revolution — I think there are only five of them left — which were all summarily removed from political power about two months ago. But they would all gather and Fidel would give a rip-roaring three-hour speech, which would end with "patria o muerte," the "motherland/fatherland or death." That no longer is happening today. Today, the president of Cuba is doing volunteer work with 100 schoolchildren, planting lettuce and other food that people eat on a daily basis in small gardens throughout the country.
So, those revolutionaries are gone. Angry protests occurrred a couple of weeks ago. What are you hearing from friends and relatives in Cuba about how they're celebrating today?
Everybody likes not working. And today is a day off. But, Cuba has now been under the COVID pressure for almost a year and a half. So, what used to be a third-world medical superpower is now hobbled by their inability and their lack of resources to take on this disease. And it is overwhelming. I was in Cuba less than two months ago, and people are kept indoors, people wear masks everywhere. I happen to be a cigar smoker. So, whenever you walk by a crowd of more than three or four people, someone screams at you to put on the mask. And yet, they're seeing no light at the end of the tunnel, because although you're kept indoors all day, you have to go out and stand in these marathon lines to get whatever food is available. That, coupled with the outpouring of violence on the streets, where people were demanding change, clearly the government put its boots on and quashed that. But, once people have felt their power, it's tough to put a cap on it.
So, those protests had flared up two weeks ago in response to COVID-19, in response to a lack of freedom of speech, etc. Are those continuing or has the government actually put that fire out?
Well, you know, the idea to put a fire out is very easy because of Cuba being an island, right? There's no border that you can run to, and it is a very controlled society. But, we are seeing, for the first time, a government that is unable to project its complete and total control of things on the ground. Today was celebrated by these meager rations that were announced throughout the country, which were bagged rice bags, a little bit of sugar and some cooking oil. That was, in essence, the gift that they got today for the revolution.
You served as a sort of informal intermediary between the US and Cuban governments. I mean, what are Cuban officials thinking right now? Can you put us in their heads?
What is stark here, for the first time, is that these are children of the revolution that are fighting the revolution. These are not the grandchildren of Fulgencio Batista. These are not the remnants of the propertied class or the the Cuban gulags, as it were. This is the children of the revolution. And you notice that both in Cuba, those who are fighting are under 30, and you notice also abroad in the demonstrations that were typically marked by people like my parents or my grandparents standing and fighting for the thought of a free Cuba or a democratic Cuba or a different view, that is the people who are ... taking the streets in the United States or in Cuba. It's the youth. It's the people that were brought up in the system.
Today in Washington, there were Cubans protesting, asking Joe Biden to do more, bring pressure on the Cuban government. So, the US imposed sanctions on a Cuban security minister and an Interior Ministry special forces unit last week. I gather you've been on recent phone calls with Biden officials when they've laid out their thinking on Cuba. What options are they considering?
What the US, I think, should do is some very aggressive help on COVID that gets directly to the Cuban people, because COVID kills capitalists and communists alike. You know, the Cubans [are] always wanting for an epic battle and, seeing themselves in the epic image that Fidel Castro created for this small country, decided to find a cure for COVID. This is something that over half of the G7 didn't even attempt to do. This small country, which is nowhere [near] the top 50 or 100 economies of the world, decided to take on spending hundreds of millions of dollars to try to develop this drug. According to them, they've developed a drug, they simply don't have the syringes to inject people. It's tantamount to buying a Ferrari and not being able to afford the gasoline to make it move.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. AP contributed to this report.

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