Martha Bueno’s organization, People 4 Cuba, smuggles food and medicine directly into the hands of suffering Cubans to help undermine an oppressive dictatorship.
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A massive protest movement broke out in Cuba on July 11, 2021. Food, medicine, and electricity shortages exacerbated by the COVID pandemic were pushing an already desperate, oppressed, and impoverished nation to the brink of rebellion. Demonstrators used the internet—which has only been legally available in the country since 2018—to coordinate action in large and small cities across the island. “Freedom…I felt free. I have never experienced in my life something so spectacular and wonderful. You had to have lived it to understand,” one Cuban citizen, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from the Cuban government, told Reason.
In the face of widespread protests, the Cuban government arrested hundreds of protesters and shut down the internet. Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel appeared on state TV to call for the violent suppression of the protests against “counter-revolutionaries.” In Miami, members of the sizable Cuban-American community planned to load their own fishing boats with supplies to make the 90-mile journey to the island themselves but were deterred by the U.S. Coast Guard. So they set off fireworks in international waters off the coast of Cuba instead. “I think what people don’t understand is that the problem in Cuba stems from the fact that people can’t do anything for themselves,” says Martha Bueno, a Cuban-American activist. “You’re only allowed to make money if the government says it’s OK. And that’s how the government throttles people. They’ll throw you in jail if you decide to try and feed your family on your own.”
Bueno started the group People 4 Cuba following the protests. They assemble packages of dry foods and medical supplies and then pay people $35/pound to smuggle them onto the island. They’ve shipped more than 800 pounds so far, but she says it’s become more difficult in recent months as the Cuban government has cracked down harder on smuggled medical supplies. “The big reason that we have to smuggle it into Cuba is because if I send it legitimately… the Cuban government will take that and then sell it in the stores,” says Bueno. “I wanted people to receive it, people who needed it to be able to receive it without paying. And I especially won’t help the Cuban government. I refuse to fund raise, pay for, and then give it to them so that they can sell it in the stores. I’m not that kind of girl.”
Produced by Zach Weissmueller.