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In Miami, members of Congress mark 2021 Cuban protests anniversary with new hopes

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, seen in 2021. He led a bipartisan meeting of U.S. members of Congress Monday on politics in Cuba.
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Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, seen in 2021. He led a bipartisan meeting of U.S. members of Congress Monday on politics in Cuba.

Miami — On the eve of the second anniversary of the July 11, 2021, Cuban protests, a bipartisan group of members of Congress reflected that the watershed moment continues to fuel movement away from the Communist regime.

However, members also warned of new threats from that regime, including concerns of a growing alliance between Cuba and China.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul led the roundtable discussion for the six-member group, which included Republican and Democratic members of the Florida delegation, who joined a panel of Cuban activists.

"As members of Congress and Americans, we have an obligation to support the Cuban people in their aspiration for freedom," said McCaul, R-Texas. "This is not just a moral imperative, it's a national security requirement."

Monday's roundtable was held before a packed room of dozens of guests, including Cuban dissidents, at a Hialeah Gardens museum dedicated to the failed attempt by Cuban exiles to overthrow the regime in the Bay of Pigs conflict. Several Cuban activists raised concern that much work remains.

The 2021 protests, held in response to critical supply shortages in the wake of the pandemic. marked the largest such demonstrations in Cuba in decades. Two years later, nearly 800 Cubans remain detained, including children, in connection with the protests, McCaul noted.

They include Maykel "Osorbo" Castillo Pérez, who collaborated with a group of performers for the Feb. 2021 hip-hop song "Patria y Vida," or homeland and life, that became a chant during the protests.

Another collaborator, Eliexer Márquez Duany who goes by the stage name "el Funky," was able to leave Cuba for the U.S. soon after, spoke in his native Spanish to the crowd to urge for more action.

"Thank you for everything you are doing," he said in Spanish, adding, "we can do a little more" to bring change in the coming year to help those still imprisoned.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who was one of two Florida Democrats, along with Rep. Jared Moskowitz, who joined Monday's roundtable, said the discussion was sending a message to the Cuban regime that its days of oppression are numbered.

"It is a show of solidarity and of defiance and of American leadership," she said. "And having this briefing, this community in here, as close as we are to Cuba is so critical, because we know they're watching."

Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who chairs the House appropriations subpanel on state and foreign operations, said budget plans are underway to boost funding for Cuban democracy programs to $30 million as well as new aid to ramp up broadcasting and communication into the island.

In addition, McCaul said he was joining Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla. and Wasserman-Schultz and Diaz-Balart to introduce a resolution to commemorate Tuesday's anniversary that "ensures that human rights remains at the core of our Cuba policy."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.