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Cuba's Largest Protests In Decades Stun Bay Area Cuban Community

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) – Cuban Americans in the Bay Area are watching the unrest in Cuba with concern.

Protests in the streets of Havana, perhaps the largest mass demonstrations against conditions in Cuba and/or the communist government in decades, took place over the weekend. That's surprising to Cuban Americans in the Bay Area.

"They're taking their lives in their own hands now because they could be arrested and put in jail.  And you disappear in Cuba," said Oakland A's Spanish-language broadcaster Amaury Pi-Gonzalez.

The broadcaster, who was was born in Cuba, left as a child after the communist takeover.

"It's something the Cuban public rarely does," said Arturo Riera, who is also known as Mister Latin Jazz. Riera has extended family still on the island and is the brother-in-law of KPIX 5 reporter Len Ramirez.

Cubans are seen outside Havana's Capitol during a demonstration against the government of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana, on July 11, 2021. - (YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images)

"The Cuban people have accepted many, many things over the last 60 years, including economic downturns like this one. But they say they've never felt anything like this," Riera said.

Riera has traveled frequently to Cuba, often organizing musical exchanges with Cuban artists.

He says there's constant shortages of food and medicine and COVID-19 is making things even worse with surging infections and deaths.

Riera says the U.S. had the power to change things by easing up on tough economic sanctions in place for decades.

"The party line is that if the embargo would just simply end, then a lot of these troubles wouldn't be occurring and frankly, I can't necessarily argue with that," he said.

President Joe Biden said in a statement, "The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves."

Pi-Gonzales places blame for the current conditions on the communist government.

"They trade with countries who are developed countries. So, it's mismanagement by the government, unfortunately. They just seize power and are power crazy and the people in Cuba cannot move, they can't do anything," he said.

Biden did not comment to reporters on whether he would lift the sanctions on Cuba but said the administration would have more to say on Cuba later this week.

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