TAMPA — Eliécer Ávila gripped a megaphone and asked the crowd in downtown Tampa if it was going to allow what he described as “communist penetration attempts.”
“No!” the protesters shouted.
“Viva Cuba Libre!” a voice yelled.
Dozens of Cubans and people of other nationalities gathered Saturday at Lykes Gaslight Park, 241 E Madison St., to criticize a recent visit by Cuban ambassador Lianys Torres Rivera. Torres met local business officials and politicians in a local restaurant four weeks ago.
“Is it possible that these people come to Tampa quietly to spread their ideas?” one protester asked during the rally, referring to Torres’ visit.
“No more,” the crowd responded.
The protesters chanted anti-Havana regime slogans and walked to Tampa City Hall. The rally was organized by Ávila, a YouTube influencer and activist who came from Miami to support the local exiles.
Among the protesters was Alejandra Machado, 21, who drove from St. Petersburg to support the rally with two college friends, each wrapped in a Cuban flag.
She shouted: “Patria y Vida, ‘homeland and life,’” — the name of a hip-hop song by Cuban musicians in exile that has become the soundtrack of the Cuban liberation movement.
Activist Dariel Fernández said the rally was an opportunity for all to learn more about the negative impact of communism.
“We unite against the communist dictatorship and make our voices heard against those who support this murderous Cuban socialist regime,” said Fernández.
Daniel Llorente, 59, a former political prisoner in Cuba, said he’s fed up with the Cuban regime. In 2017, Llorente stormed into Revolution Square in Havana waving an American flag and shouting “Freedom!” during a celebration of the communist revolution. He became known as Flag Man.
“This is a movement that continues to grow,” said Llorente. “We are not going to stop.”
Susana Ceruelo, 53, a mother of two from Tampa, came to the rally to say that there’s no space for people who represent the Castro regime. Ceruelo marched with a Cuban flag and a T-shirt that read: “Patria,” or “homeland.”
“We are not going to let these people walk our streets freely,” she said.
Rigoberto Rodriguez, a 37-year-old electrician student who came from Cuba seven years ago, said he dreams of seeing the island and its people living without fear. But he also wants to find justice, he said.
“These people (the Cuban authorities) have done a lot of damage to our people,” he said. “They have to answer.”
Rafael Vila, 70, was holding a sign in the median in front of the park. Vila, a business owner, came from Cuba 44 years ago.
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“Now I am here to support my people,” said Vila.
Cuban authorities, he said, locked up one of his grandsons, Chadrian, a 21-year-old student, for participating in the July 11, 2021, protests on the island when thousands of Cubans spontaneously took to the streets to protest.
“We need justice for everyone who suffered persecution,” said Vila while dozens of protesters gathered around him and his wife, Elvia, 59.
“It is not the first, nor will it be the last time, that we have come together to defend our rights and our freedom,” Vila said.