270 days (in other words, 8 months and 27 days). That’s how many days a group of politically active Cubans, called the European Ibero-American Alliance (AIECC) and its allies in Barcelona have been gathering every day (and, still are) on one of the most pedestrian trafficked streets – Paseo de Gracia – to grab the attention of those willing to listen to a 63 year old political crisis. That crisis is the current Cuban government; more commonly known as the Castro administration that assumed power in 1959.
I sit in a cafe, near Paseo de Gracia where these Cubans strategically post themselves in front of the Cuban Embassy in Barcelona to observe. I gather around churros and hot tea to discuss all things Cuba with some of the Cubans living in Barcelona today who play an active political role in the city.
The Birth of the European-Cuban Council
“It’s been exactly 20 years since I’ve been a free man,” says the President of AIECC Sayde Chaling Chong García, 41, born in 1980 in a neighborhood in Havana called Guanabacoa. He is a musician by profession and arrived in Spain in 2002 after touring the country on a music tour. Since then, he has not returned to his homeland.
Born out of Barcelona, the European Ibero-American Alliance (AIECC – Alianza Iberoamericana Europea), as the European-Cuban Council, was a spontaneous initiative. On December 10, 2020, an international demonstration took place for Human Rights Day, with the participation of Spaniards, Cubans and Bolivians, and they realized the greater impact they had while living in the same European City.
The people standing outside the Cuban embassy on the chilly, rainy night as I approached them weren’t just Cubans. Allies from across Latin America as well as Spain were also outside.
As part of AIECC’s efforts, along with Cubans for Democracy, they sent a letter in January 2022 to the Lithunian Parliament since they have been the only parliament in Europe to be vocal against the Cuban government.
In the letter, it states all European countries must agree to ratify The Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA) agreement made on December 12, 2016. The PDCA is the contract of the European Parliament with the Cuba, which is how Cuba receives its funds from Europe. From Barcelona’s perspective, the purpose of these political organizations is to reach the European Union.
Since Lithuania is against and prohibits communism in their country, Cuba has no influence to lobby against this political initiative by AIECC. In a press release written by the organization, platforms, activists and associations from the following countries have declared their solidarity: Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, Slovakia, Belgium, and Czech Republic.
Solidarity for Cuba with the Support of Other Latin Americans
Today’s protesters aren’t just Cuban. Backgrounds range from all sorts of professions and generations, and nationalities; Peruvians, Argentinians, Bolivians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans in Barcelona have all shown solidarity towards the freedom of Cuba.
“There’s still a lot of work to do. They [the Cuban government] are there because they’ve created a mafia at an international level. They are like a Cancer metastasis,” said Sayde.
While listening to Sayde speak, you can hear the same common feeling coming out of another Cuban protester sitting next to him. Yusil Gascon, 51, who was born in 1971 in the neighborhood in Havana, El Cotorro, and the leader of the International Advisory Council within AIECC.
“I did not feel like an activist at the time. To think differently and protest against any kind of injustice is something normal. I think every citizen should [do this] and that’s why I didn’t think I am an activist. What I’ve done is a duty.”
She received her Bachelor’s degree in Media and Audiovisual in the Department of Radio, Film and Television in Havana. In 1989, she left Cuba on a scholarship given to students from communist countries (typically to study at eastern European countries and Russia). Yusil only stayed a year under this scholarship because, around this time, the Berlin Wall fell and she decided to return to Cuba to be with her family. If she hadn’t, she would have never been allowed to return, a reality faced by some people she personally knows who decided to stay.
Eventually, Yusil finished her studies and left Cuba again to Paris with the help from friends. She lived in the French capital for 4 years, and eventually moved to Barcelona in 2000.
An Unspoken Vow for Freedom No Matter the Backlash
Since July 11th, this group of people ranging from Cubans to allies, have dedicated themselves to bringing awareness to the cause. Every time Yusil attends these daily protests, she turns to her phone and goes on Facebook Live in the private Facebook group, Cubanos en Barcelona/Cubans in Barcelona to document their consistent efforts.
They’ve also had many interviews with Spanish press, yet none of them have ever been released or aired on television, according to Sayde and Yusil.
To understand the obstacles that the Cuban community in Barcelona face with the Catalan government and its’ people, they share with me an incident that happened on October 11, 2021. AIECC organized a conference at the headquarters of the professional journalist organization created by the Parliament of Catalonia, Col·legi de Periodistes de Catalunya, in Barcelona where they virtually invited two journalists under house arrest in Havana – Iliana Hernández and Camila Acosta – to speak on the current climate in Cuba. The Collegi de Periodistes didn’t promote the event in any of their channels nor did they invite any local press to cover the event.
Related Post: The US Embargo Against Cuba Is Sixty
Three days after the conference, they asked them as a favor to remove the video from the organization’s social media channels because it “didn’t make the organization look good,” according to what Yusil and Sayde experienced.
Yusil and Sayde believe that they are not being supported by the local Catalan government; this is just one example that supports Catalunya’s government for Cuba’s current political climate.
“When Fidel Castro assumed power, there was a military coup organized by mercenaries, and that is what the July 26 movement was back then. I know a lot of people don’t like to hear that because they romanticize the revolution,” says Sayde when asked about what makes now different from Cuba’s past with historial, political movements.
“We all agree that Cuba is a totalitarian system and must be destroyed. The United States can’t do more than what it has done. Europe is the place where we consider it to be the place to bring the dictatorship to its knees and to do another July 11th. The dictatorship [in Cuba] profits millions from our taxes here to supposedly help the Cuban people and create schools as well as streets that never get created.”
What Happens Now? The Question All Cubans Want to Know
As Sayde acknowledges the wins and failures of last year, he is certain of one thing, “With a dictatorship of terrorists, you don’t negotiate. If I were to sit with the dictatorship one day, I want to know when and what time they are leaving. I’m not interested in knowing anything else.”