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Wife of arrested Cuban protester: All they asked for was liberty
03:12 - Source: CNN
Cárdenas, Cuba CNN  — 

Days before protests swept across Cuba last July, Marbelis Vázquez Hernández felt that the island was at a breaking point.

Like so many other businesses, the small cafeteria she and her husband ran was shuttered because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Worsening food and medicine shortages had left many store shelves in Cuba completely bare. The government’s adoption of a plan to upend Cuba’s dual currency system meant those without access to remittances from abroad were at an even greater disadvantage.

“There was no medicine, nothing. And on top of that they sell everything in a currency that most Cubans don’t have,” Vázquez said referencing the new Freely Convertible Currency, or MLC, a currency which comes on prepaid cards.

“I lived next to a store where they sell things in the hard currency and I can’t even go buy a lollipop for my kids. Everyone was in great need.”

Increasingly desperate and connected via mobile networks, Cubans organized their first protests in San Antonio de los Baños on July 11 in protest of power outages in the midst of the sweltering summer heat following months of frustration over shortages and pandemic-related restrictions. Quickly the protests spread across the island, with Cubans openly defying the communist-run government – which blames Cuba’s economic woes on US sanctions – in a way not seen since the 1959 revolution.

Cubans demonstrate in rare protests in Havana on July 11, 2021.

In the city of Cárdenas, a two-hour drive east of Havana, where Vázquez lives, hundreds poured onto the streets to denounce the chronic shortages and a lack of freedoms. One of them was Vázquez’s husband, Daniel Joel Cárdenas Díaz.

Vázquez said her husband took part in the protests outside a state-owned gas station near their home, but was too afraid to enter the store where police say looting took place. When police arrived and began clashing with demonstrators, Vazquez said her husband retreated back to the home they shared with their two-year old twin boy and girl.

“I even said, ‘You didn’t grab anything for the kids – not even a snack?’” she said.

Two days later, after police had quelled the protests across much of the island, Vázquez said that police and Cuban “black beret” special forces appeared outside the couple’s home and began battering down the door.

Vázquez managed to record two brief videos with her phone as police forced their way into the home, guns drawn. She says she hid the phone between her legs to keep it from being taken and sheltered with her young children as police fired at her husband. She said that one of the rounds grazed the back of his head.

“When I saw him on the floor they were hitting him with a baton,” she said. “He was on hurt on the floor covered in blood, in a huge pool of blood. I thought he was dead.”

While the video Vazquez took shows a pool of blood on the floor of her home, CNN was not able to independently confirm the extent of her husband’s injuries.

In a third video taken after police took her husband away, Vázquez shows the blood on the floor and cries to her neighbors who have gathered at her front door, “They have destroyed my house!”

Vázquez said she believes police raided their house as a case of mistaken identity. She said that police first accused her husband of helping to overturn a car in front of the headquarters of the city’s communist party.

Vazquez said her husband was not involved with that incident.

CNN has reached out to the government for comment.

Vázquez's husband Daniel Joel Cárdenas Díaz, seen here with their two children.

After the harrowing video Vázquez took was aired by the international press, Cuban-state run media released images of Cárdenas being calmly being questioned by police to refute what they called “fake news” reports that he had been critically wounded. The national news program also showed security camera video that state media said showed Cárdenas outside the gas station after it had been damaged.