Cuban Americans living in Philadelphia region react to anti-government protests

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Chanting in Spanish, "We want liberty," tens of thousands of Cubans have taken to the streets in more than a dozen cities demanding freedom and an end to the communist regime that has ruled the island for more than 60 years.

"I mean, I think it's extraordinary. If you look at the history of protests in Cuba, it just doesn't happen," said Rich Negrin, the former managing director for the City of Philadelphia. His family fled the island when he was just a boy.

"You would only be willing to risk your life if your life was already on the line," added Negrin.

An economic crisis-- the worst in three decades-- has hit the island nation hard, forcing people to wait hours in line for food and job opportunities. The pandemic has also ravaged the country due to little or no health care for many of the impoverished people.

"They're fed up, they're tired of the lies, they're tired of the work with no pay," said Ray Yabor, a retired Cuban American Philadelphia businessman.

SEE ALSO: Cubans take to streets in rare protests over lack of freedoms and worsening economy
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Thousands of Cubans took to the streets to protest as the country undergoes an economic crisis aggravated by Covid-19 and sanctions.

He said he never thought he would see anything like this in his lifetime.

"I think it's long overdue. I'm glad to see something like this because I think it's gonna turn out to be much bigger," said Yabor.

Still, he and others worry because the government is notorious for cracking down on dissent. Already, several people have been arrested-- their whereabouts are unknown.

"This is an incredibly important time, the world needs to notice these people and let their voices heard," said Negrin.

President Joe Biden has expressed his support for demonstrations.

On Tuesday, Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Perez joined other Cuban American Bishops to also express support for demonstrators, saying in part, "We Cuban American Bishops join in solidarity with the Cuban people in their quest for responses to their human rights and needs."

"These people are really starving down there. They are people really just trying to survive, they got kids," said Yabor.

The question is whether the newfound boldness of demonstrators and activists can withstand the ferocity of the Cuban government's response.

"I know a lot of Cubans, and I'm talking to my family and my mom, and a lot of folks hope this is going to lead to change," said Negrin.

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