Article by Keir Adamson '22, Managing Editor
Additional reporting by Madison Lazenby '23, Editor-in-Chief
Photos by Gabriel Bit-Babik '25
On Tuesday, September 21st, over a hundred Hamilton students and faculty gathered to protest human rights violations in Cuba related to last summer’s protests over a lack of food, medicine, and the government’s response to COVID-19. Protesters held signs reading “SOS CUBA,” “Cuba Needs Internet,” “No one should be in prison for their ideas,” and more. Students banged on pots and pans, their chants filling campus as they marched from outside the Kirner Johnson building to the Science Center and back.
This march was held months after Cuba’s largest protests in decades, taking place in mid-July when protests that began near Havana spread across the country. Thousands of Cubans united to protest a lack of food and medicine amid a grave economic crisis exacerbated by COVID-19 and the American embargo on trade with Cuba. As the protests continued, people also organized against the nature of Cuba’s authoritarian communist government.
The Monitor interviewed Yenesis Alvarez, class of 2022, one of the organizers of this event, in order to get her perspective. Alvarez and six other students started planning the peaceful protest before the school year began. The process of organizing was intensive, with Alvarez telling us that “It took hours—making the group chats, connecting with the other Cubans on campus…making the ‘SOS CUBA’ poster.”
Alvarez and the other organizers, all of them Cuban-American Hamilton students, have gone out of their way to establish this protest as “apolitical.” In the email that circulated around campus, a section read “This is about human rights. No mention of any political ideology will be made in the peaceful march. Everyone from every part of the political spectrum is welcome.” Yenesis stressed that the main focus of this protest was raising awareness of Cuba’s human rights abuses, as for a long time, “Cuba has been seen as a nice island to go to… but there is much more than that.”
Some students on the anonymous messaging app Jodel argued that the idea of an “apolitical” protest is confusing and perhaps impossible, and pointed out that some of the intentions of the organizers were explicitly political.
For example, the protest did not have a focus on the American embargo. Alvarez claimed that the US embargo is irrelevant to Cuba’s wellbeing, stating that “While you talk about the embargo, my friends are starving.” This is in opposition to findings that starvation is directly linked to the US embargo.
In her interview, Alvarez also made claims about the earlier protests and the Cuban government that we found cannot be supported by facts. Alvarez claimed that there were “900 political prisoners” currently imprisoned in Cuba, while the Human Rights Watch estimates that there are around 400 prisoners. Similarly, Alvarez also stated that “there were babies even killed at these protests,” while independent sources find that only one adult has died at the hands of the police.
Hamilton College students are clearly passionate about this issue, and let their voices be heard. While the protest did not focus on some related issues to the human rights issues in Cuba, Alvarez, the other organizers, and the protesters as a whole are clearly supporting Cubans.