Junier Basulto Lorenzo, right, speaks at a rally to support protesters in Cuba on July 17 at Mayor Bill Overstreet Park. Janett Hampton, left, and Stacey Lacey, center, also attended the rally along with about 25 people. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Residents gather to support protests in Cuba

Many supporters share close ties with the island nation

People in Cuba recently took the streets to protest deteriorating living conditions, a lack of goods and services and growing COVID-19 infections. On Saturday, Juneau residents sent long-distance support.

About 25 people gathered at Mayor Bill Overstreet Park to share stories about fleeing Cuba, support family members still on the island and send a message of solidarity with protesters on the ground there.

“I thought it would be nice to show solidarity for the people of Cuba,” said organizer Alicia Nestler. She said the event was an opportunity to support Juneau’s Cuban community. “There are crimes against humanity happening there. We will show support for the Cuban people in a public way.”

Supporters carried signs designed to look like Cuban flags with #SOSCuba printed along the bottom. According to the Orlando-based CBS affiliate WKMG, the hashtag started in Cuba last week and has been trending.

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Sharing stories

Many who attended had a personal or family connection to Cuba.

Yazmin Kennard said that her cousins in Cuba are unaccounted for after they attended a protest on the island last week.

“I’m here to support my family. Cubans don’t want a handout. They want to work and enjoy the country and have basic needs met,” Kennard said. She said communication with family members has been difficult because the island’s internet connection is “spotty.”

Kennard, who moved to Juneau three years ago for professional reasons, recalled leaving Cuba as a child in 1980.

She said that she left the island as part of the Mariel Boatlift on a boat carrying 253 people — well beyond its 66-passenger capacity. She said the 90-mile journey took 18 hours because of onboard navigation issues.

“The most beautiful thing for me was when we entered American waters and the Coast Guard was there. They welcomed us. A tall, blond Coast Gguard member gave me a Coke, an apple and a blanket,” Kennard said, fighting back tears at the memory.

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Junier Basulto Lorenzo, who spoke at the rally, said that he had come to the United States from Cuba about five years ago seeking asylum after denouncing the Cuban government.

“The Cuban government is not a friend of the American government,” he told the crowd. “That’s a romantic idea.”

Aaron Irizarry attended the rally with his daughter, Sky Angel, who is 18 months old. He said that he has several family members on the island, including an uncle who is currently in prison after trying to leave Cuba.

“I’m here to show support for our people,” he said.

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

Aaron Irizarry and his daughter Sky Angel, who is 18 months old, attended the rally on July 17 to support protesters in Cuba. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

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