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It’s about ‘freedom’: Cuban Americans say shortages don’t explain protests

MIAMI — As Cubans took to the streets to protest in numbers not seen since before the 1959 Revolution, Cuban Americans are challenging the view that the demonstrations are just about economic frustration.

While Cubans expressed anger over shortages in food and medicine, rising inflation and power outages — amid the challenges of Covid-19 — many of the chants throughout the island called for political change and included expressions such as “libertad” (liberty), “We want change” and “Down with the dictatorship.”

Many Cuban Americans say that should not be glossed over.

“For the first time in 62 years, they are risking their lives from one end of the island to the other to demand accountability from the regime,” Carmen Peláez, a Cuban American filmmaker and Democratic political consultant, said. “I’m anti-embargo. But it’s not about the embargo right now. That’s not what this fight is about.”

In the U.S., Cuban Americans hold different positions on U.S.-Cuba relations, some falling along party lines. But while conservatives and Republicans are known for a more hard-line stance against Cuba, some progressives have been denouncing the Cuban government’s tough stance against activists’ calls for greater freedom of expression.

Many Cuban Americans have grown up hearing calls for “libertad” for Cuba in the streets of Miami and other U.S. cities, but it’s seldom heard in Cuba. Some Cuban Americans said it was emotional to hear the word being shouted by so many on the island.

“Policy differences aside, Cuban Americans strongly agree and understand that these protests are not about the embargo or even food shortages. It’s opposition to the regime,” said Giancarlo Sopo, a conservative media strategist.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. We all recognize what these protests are about,” said Sopo, adding that the chants called for “libertad.”

Cuba has been run by a Communist government, with a strong grip on society, for over six decades. Though the government has received praise for its ability to offer primary care to its population, it also determines many aspects of people’s lives, including wages, food and internet prices, as well as their freedom of assembly, expression and the ability to choose a president that does not belong to the Communist Party of Cuba.

After the protests, Cuba’s government announced it would temporarily lift restrictions on the amount of toiletries, food and medicine that Cuban citizens can bring back home when they take foreign trips, but for many protesters on the island it’s a small concession compared to their demands, and out of touch with their basic needs.

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel took some blame for the protests recently, saying failings by the government played a role, though he still says the United States is primarily at fault.

Before the protests began on Sunday, public displays of dissent had been increasing in recent months. In November, authorities broke up a hunger strike by members of the San Isidro Movement, an artists’ collective, sparking a rare protest with hundreds of artists and activists in front of the Culture Ministry. Those who protested formed another group, called 27N.

The leader of the San Isidro Movement, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, went on a hunger strike in May and was forcibly taken to the hospital on the seventh day, drawing international attention and condemnation.

Following the protests, the government faced scrutiny over its shutdown of social media and messaging apps.

The U.N. human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, on Friday urged Cuba’s government to address protesters’ grievances and called for the prompt release of all those detained.

“I am very concerned at the alleged use of excessive force against demonstrators in Cuba and the arrest of a large number of people, including several journalists,” Bachelet said in a statement. “It is particularly worrying that these include individuals allegedly held incommunicado and people whose whereabouts are unknown.”

The streets of the capital, Havana, have been calm in recent days but a heavy police presence remains. Since Sunday’s protests, 55 out of 383 people who were detained nationwide have been freed, according to Cubalex, a human rights group based in the U.S.

The words “Cuba Libre” or “free Cuba” was painted in large block letters on the street in directly in front of the Cuban embassy in Washington D.C. on Friday.

For Cuba’s government, the challenge will be to manage the acute economic crisis and the pandemic, while addressing human rights concerns and growing calls for “libertad” in Cuba and abroad.

Cuban American musician Pitbull said in a widely shared video on Twitter that he felt frustrated “having a platform to speak to the world and not being able to help my own people, not being able to get them food, not being able to get them water, not being able to get them medicine. But most of all, not being able to help and really get them what they deserve, which is freedom.” 

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Pop mogul Simon Cowell was a racing flop with ‘awful’ £35,000 horse he owned with Ant and Dec – that didn’t win a penny

SIMON COWELL conquered the music world – but his foray into racing ended in disaster with an ‘awful’ £35,000 horse he owned with Ant and Dec.

The music mogul, 62, has done it all with bands like One Direction, Little Mix and solo acts Olly Murs and James Arthur, to name but a few.

Cowell owned an 'awful' £35,000 horse with Ant and Dec - but the runner didn't win a single penny in six races

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Cowell owned an ‘awful’ £35,000 horse with Ant and Dec – but the runner didn’t win a single penny in six racesCredit: PA:Press Association
Cowell remains a massive racing fan and loves Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby

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Cowell remains a massive racing fan and loves Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby

His Syco label – plus shows such as Britain’s Got Talent – have dominated the entertainment industry and brought him an estimated net worth of £385m.

A lover of Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby, he looked perfectly poised to strike a knockout blow in the world of thoroughbreds.

But it turns out his runner was far from No1 in the charts – and never even finished better than fifth during a doomed six-race career.

Things looked promising at the start.

Named It’s A Yes From Me, the runner was trained with the respected James Fanshawe and sent off at 8-1 for his first race in June 2014.

But coming last of five by 13-and-a-half lengths was unfortunately about as good as it got for the gelding.

A month’s rest followed before he was sent off at 40-1 in a six-furlong sprint at Doncaster.

But there he could only manage fifth again, and it was same at Redcar the next month.

‘Dreadfully slow’

By October that year – with further finishes of sixth and tenth – It’s A Yes From Me came second-last in a one-mile race at Kempton.

One analysis of the race warned punters the horse was ‘one to tread carefully’ with.

Well, Cowell and Ant and Dec took that advice to heart as they never raced him again.

The horse was penniless from six races, never finishing high enough to recoup some of that £35,000 investment.

It’s doubtful Cowell, with hundreds of millions in the bank, lost any sleep over that.

But Ant and Dec revealed just how bad things has got with the horse during an interview last year.

Dec said of It’s A Yes From Me: “It was awful, it was a dreadfully slow horse.

“It wasn’t a racehorse it was just a horse, because it didn’t race.

“Every time we got to the BGT studio Simon would say, ‘I keep paying stable fees on this horse, but I’ve never seen it run’.”

Cowell originally wanted to name the nag after himself, but they settled on It’s A Yes From Me when they bought it in 2013.

‘It was awful’

Dec revealed its eventual fate: “I think it got rehomed.”

Of course it’s not all been bad for Cowell at the races.

He was one of the exclusive few at the Epsom Derby in June, having a great time with partner Lauren Silverman and Piers Morgan.

And two weeks later he was at Royal Ascot – where he first discovered his love of racing.

Cowell told SunSport’s Matt Chapman during a chat at Epsom: “I’ve got my son Eric with me today.

“My mum and dad years ago used to take me to Ascot and I was probably about his age – seven or eight.

Cowell with partner Lauren at Epsom earlier this year

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Cowell with partner Lauren at Epsom earlier this yearCredit: Getty
It's A Yes From Me trails behind in last during one of his six races

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It’s A Yes From Me trails behind in last during one of his six races
The music supremo tweeted about his horse's bad start... which never got much better

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The music supremo tweeted about his horse’s bad start… which never got much better

Most read in Horse Racing

“So the fact I can now bring him to the races as well is brilliant. It brings back a lot of good memories.

“Making TV shows is my passion. But racing is actually my second passion.”

He hasn’t made that passion the money-maker his music label is, but don’t rule out Cowell staging his own comeback at the track in the near future.

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Commercial content notice: Taking one of the bookmaker offers featured in this article may result in a payment to The Sun. 18+. T&Cs apply. Begambleaware.org


Remember to gamble responsibly

A responsible gambler is someone who:

  • Establishes time and monetary limits before playing
  • Only gambles with money they can afford to lose
  • Never chases their losses
  • Doesn’t gamble if they’re upset, angry or depressed
  • Gamcare – www.gamcare.org.uk
  • Gamble Aware – www.begambleaware.org

Commercial content notice: Taking one of the bookmaker offers featured in this article may result in a payment to The Sun. 18+. T&Cs apply. Begambleaware.org


Remember to gamble responsibly

A responsible gambler is someone who:

  • Establishes time and monetary limits before playing
  • Only gambles with money they can afford to lose
  • Never chases their losses
  • Doesn’t gamble if they’re upset, angry or depressed
  • Gamcare – www.gamcare.org.uk
  • Gamble Aware – www.begambleaware.org
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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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