'Our families are starving,' say Cuban Londoners watching unrest back home

People in London, Ont., with Cuban ties react to the poverty and pandemic that have converged in Cuba to create unbearable circumstances in the island nation and prompted protests.

For more than a week, Cubans have been protesting food shortages and high prices

Inima Luque Tamayo, in white, with her family at a London, Ont., rally over the weekend. 'People in Cuba want freedom. They want democracy. They want respect,' says Tamayo. (Submitted by Inima Luque Tamayo)

London, Ont., resident Inima Luque Tamayo has been losing sleep worrying about friends and family back home in Cuba, where people have been protesting food shortages, and internet and electricity blackouts.

"People in Cuba want freedom. They want democracy. They want respect," said Tamayo, 33. "They want a decent wage and an opportunity to fulfil their dreams and for the kids to have a better future.

"People are ready for a change. But right now there's a lot of unrest. There's a lot of fear." 

Poverty and the pandemic have converged in Cuba, creating unbearable circumstances in the island nation, prompting thousands of people last week to take to the streets in Havana demanding change.

Tamayo, 33, moved to Canada from Cuba when she was 11. (Submitted by Inima Luque Tamayo)

Tamayo moved to Canada at age 11, and still has many friends and family in the Caribbean nation. In recent days, she's been organizing and attending rallies in London to raise awareness.

"There is no medication or equipment. My cousin, she's going to be giving birth in September and she was at the women's hospital for a week and a half, and they had to bring their own syringes and needles from home."

"And she had to bring her own snacks because the hospitals don't have enough food."

Her family is often without electricity for six to 12 hours a day, she said.

As well, the government is cracking down on protesters, said Tamayo.

"The streets are full of military and police," she said.

"People are scared. People are being murdered and people have disappeared. Men are being beat up. They're being shot."

Crushing poverty, coronavirus prompt protests in Cuba

1 year ago
Duration 1:06
In a rare show of defiance, thousands of Cubans flocked to the streets in several cities on Sunday with bitter complaints about poverty and rousing demands for freedom.

"Our families are starving," said another London resident, Karen Sandoval-Santana, 23, whose mother is Cuban, and whose grandmother still lives there and doesn't have a clear understanding of what's happening.

"The news they see on TV is whatever the government wants the people to think," Sandoval-Santana said.

Karen Sandoval-Santana's family is from Cuba, where they have a home. She's been visiting the island nation every year since she was a child. (Submitted by Karen Sandoval-Santana)

"They're also very reluctant to tell us about the violence on the phone because they're afraid the phones are being tapped."

Sandoval-Santana is hopeful Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will add more international pressure to the growing unrest in Cuba.

"I really hope that Justin Trudeau will not only encourage Canadians to spread more awareness, but himself really speaks out on his beliefs, on democracy and freedom of expression, and why it's so important for everyone in the world to have it, not just Canadians, because so many of our families are down there."