What Cuba’s March for Change Revealed About the Future of the Country

Upon landing in Cuba in September, just two months after the protest, that momentum seemed to have vanished. I immediately felt a familiar tranquility reigning over the streets of Havana—the effect of the government’s brutal crackdown against its dissenters. Long lines of locals waited patiently for their turn outside of supermarkets; jaded receptionists staffed pharmacies with empty shelves; restless kids sat in their decaying balconies, endlessly watching time pass by.

But Cubans aren’t done speaking out. In whispers and behind closed doors, I saw signs of change my family couldn’t see from miles away. In my hotel room, the housekeeper scolded the regime for not having the necessary medication to cure her granddaughter’s cancer. In the lobby, the barista lamented the government’s inability to provide opportunities for her daughter, who ended up fleeing to Spain. On a shadowed street corner, a local complained about the island’s overcrowded hospitals. On the park benches, an elder blasted Castro’s dark legacy with political prisoners. In a taxi, the driver reproached the island’s dire economic situation and daydreamed about the day he’d reach the United States. Each one of them courageously unearthed a voice that had been buried inside of them for years. That awakening could be strong enough to dismantle a 62-year-old dictatorship.

According to Cubalex, at least 500 protestors from the July 11 protest are still behind bars or under house arrest, and there are several people that remain missing from that day. And yet despite the brutal backlash and despite the fact that the regime has deemed protests illegal, many Cubans were expected to follow through on their plans to peacefully protest yesterday as part of a Civic March for Change.

Courtesy Paola Ramos

So far it seems like the regime successfully kept people in their homes for much of the day. In the days leading up to yesterday, state security agents militarized the island, police doubled down on house arrests, and the regime cut off the internet of prominent independent journalists like Yoani Sanchez. Carolina Barrero, a young art historian and activist who has been under house arrest for more than 200 days, reports there are over 30 agents in her neighborhood. Perhaps in the past these displays of great force were a sign of strength, but today they are a reminder of the regime’s growing weakness: Inside closed doors, citizens are choosing dignity over indoctrination.

A couple of years ago, my grandparents gave up on the vision of spreading their ashes in a free Cuba. Now the plan is to return from Miami to Madrid, the city that eventually became their second home. As for me, I have a feeling I’ll be able to return to a democratic Cuba one day and finally lay to rest my family’s dreams. The plan was always to return anyway.

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