Speaking Out for Cuba

Gilberto Villa, 81, a supporter of the Cuban revolution, holds a Cuban flag and demands the end of the embargo. (The Ink/Galie Darwich)

Gilberto Villa, 81, first came to New York in 1959, right after Fidel Castro took power. Politics was not the issue that brought him to New York back then. “I’m a Fidelista,” he said. But on Wednesday, politics was very much the issue as Villa waved a Cuban flag and joined a group of about 100 protestors in front of the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations on Lexington Avenue and East 38th Street.

Villa and the others at the rally were protesting the U.S. vote earlier in the day against a U.N. General Assembly resolution calling for an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Before the vote, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, said that last year for the first time the U.S.  abstained from voting because continuing the “embargo was not isolating Cuba but was in fact isolating the United States.” This year, 191 nations voted for the resolution and only the U.S. and Israel voted against it. Lifting the full embargo would require a vote by the U.S. Congress.

Activists waving Cuban flags and holding Fidel Castro posters gathered to hear the vote tally. (The Ink/Galie Darwich)

At 1 p.m., activists gathered at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza across from the U.N. to urge an end to the embargo. After the vote tally was announced at the rally, around 100 attendees waving Cuban flags and holding Fidel Castro posters marched to the Cuban mission several blocks away.

In her speech, Haley said to Cubans, “Regrettably, as of today, the future of Cuba is not in your hands. It remains in the hands of your dictators.”

Some Cuban-Americans said they do not agree with her. “Cuba is what the people in Cuba want,” said Villa. “The people in Cuba want Fidel. They don’t want nothing else.”

Ike Nahem, coordinator of Cuba Si! Coalition, one of the groups that organized the rally, also criticized Haley.

“I want to just condemn the arrogant remarks of the U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley,” said Nahem. “What it was exposed today was the utter isolation of the United States government policy.”

Martin Koppel of the Socialist Workers Party at the rally. (The Ink/Galie Darwich)

Martin Koppel, who works for the Socialist Workers party in New York and Cuba Si! Coalition, said at the rally that it is important to educate people about the embargo.

“Cuba is not a military threat to the United States but it is a very powerful threat in terms of its example that working people can organize and make a revolution and take political power out of the hands of that wealthy capitalist class,” said Koppel. “The U.S embargo against Cuba continues intact even though the U.S government restored diplomatic relations with Cuba and those relations continue, that began with the Obama administration.”

Another attendee at the rally, Franklin Flores, 75, who was born in Puerto Rico, said he supports the Cuban Revolution.

“So we have to be here to show our support to what Obama did and what the Cuban revolution is doing for its people,” said Flores. “Show solidarity. People who believe in social justice should be claiming Cuba to be free of the blockade and also Puerto Rico from the colony system that exists in Puerto Rico, which it is devastating.” He also criticized the federal response to Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico. “They have been doing nothing,” he said.

Although the Trump Administration supports the embargo, Villa was optimistic. “Only the United States and Israel were the ones who voted no, which last year there was no vote,” said Villa. “We were expecting a no but a 191 against two…We did very good.”