SOUTHINGTON — Thousands of Cubans have raised their voices in protest as the country faces its worst economic crisis in decades, but local residents stressed that the main thing Cubans are asking for is freedom.
Daniel De Malas came to the United States in 2013, eventually arriving in Southington and working at his dream company, ESPN.
But the path to achieve his dream wasn’t easy. While he was a prominent sports journalist in Cuba, he said having a stable job was a difficult task. To make it to the United States, De Malas went all the way to Paraguay, worked his way to Mexico and then crossed the border, a trip that cost him $11,000.
He said it was a stressful and fearful situation that affected him so much he lost 22 pounds in 40 days.
While De Malas, who now lives in Newington, is living his dream career, he said he’s worried about the situation in Cuba.
While the people in Cuba have many needs, he said the main reason for their protests is their need for freedom.
The protests should have happened a long time ago because the Cuban population has had “enough,” he said.
The prevalence of social media helped protestors because it allowed people from around the world to see what the situation in Cuba is really like.
De Malas’ wife’s family still resides in Cuba and they tell him there is a lot of fear in the country, particularly after the government shut down the internet to stop the world from knowing what the country is going through.
Dozens of people have gone to prison for protesting. Other residents, not involved in the protests, are cut off from their families overseas because there is no internet.
De Malas’ concern also has to do with police violence toward protesters.
He is hopeful the protests could be “the beginning of the end” of authoritarian rule in Cuba.
“If they join forces, if they work in unity, I believe they can actually have bigger and stronger results,” he said. Turning point?
Southington Town Councilor Tom Lombardi said he's not surprised by the protests.
“These people have been controlled and manipulated by the government and the communist policies that have been going on down there,” he said. “The people have had enough.”
Lombardi was born in the United States, but has Cuban roots.
He was hopeful things would get better in Cuba after Fidel Castro passed away in 2016.
He hopes the protests stay peaceful and that the Cuban government “wakes up,” allowing people to have basic freedom and democracy.
While Lombardi has no family in Cuba, he wants Cubans to have the opportunity to create a better life.
People who live in the United States sometimes take freedom for granted, he said.
“When we see these uprisings, I think we can appreciate all the things that the USA has and how great of a country we live in, and how blessed we really are,” he said.Communist regime
Lombardi’s mother, MariaTeresa “Terry” Lombardi, of Southington is a firsthand witness of what life was like in Cuba prior to communism.
Terry Lombardi, who was born in Cuba, said the country hasn’t been free for more than 60 years.
Her mother and father were originally from Spain, but lived in Cuba because of a business they had there.
“It started with promising people a better life, promising free healthcare, free food,” she said. “What started as a socialist government, turned quickly to a communist government.”
Terry Lombardi said the government confiscated her father’s properties and his business.
She used to go to a private Catholic school, but was later forced to attend a public school.
She said the government even shut down the churches. Priests and nuns were asked to leave the country.
In addition, a rule was created making children age 10 or older government property, according to Lombardi.
“The government took everything over, I mean, they controlled everything,” she added.‘I hurt for my country’
In 1962, Lombardi’s mother had her and her brother take part in Operation Pedro Pan — which sent children to take refuge in Miami. Upon their arrival in the United States, Lombardi and her brother lived in a refugee camp for children and were later placed in foster homes without being able to communicate with their parents in Cuba.
Lombardi’s mother was later able to leave Cuba, went to Spain and eventually came to the United States.
Lombardi has served as a longtime volunteer in Southington. She said that’s her way of giving back to the United States.
But her heart is still attached to her fellow Cubans.
“I haven’t stopped thinking about it,” she said. “From the bottom of my heart, I hurt for these people, I hurt for my country.”
Lombardi called America the “best country” while recognizing that people take a lot for granted, including freedom.
“These people are suffering; we have so much freedom,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking when you compare the two environments. We are so rich.”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this article.