Lala Suarez Mooney on Cuba

Lala Suarez Mooney talks with Matt about protests in Cuba, and her book, 'Leaving Cuba: One Family’s Journey to Freedom.'

This week, I had Lala Suarez Mooney on the podcast to talk about the protests in Cuba, and her book, Leaving Cuba: One Family’s Journey to Freedom.

Click here to listen to our full conversation.

The following excerpt has been edited for length and clarity:

Matt: From your standpoint, why are these protests in Cuba happening?

Lala: I just talked to a Cuban friend and she said so many people are dying of Coronavirus. They're in a place in Matanzas. They don't have [any]where to put the bodies, so they put about 6,000 bodies in an apartment or something and they don't have caskets to put them in. The biggest tragedy is Coronavirus. It started, you know, like 18 months ago. Cuba was totally dependent on tourism, so the economy just went to pieces. Of course, before that Cuba economically was a disaster. But when the Coronavirus started, then the tourism just totally fell apart, and then the economy got even worse. And then what happened is the people became desperate and hungry. And then for the first time ever, they've gone to do demonstrations all over the country—like I think 12 or 15 different cities. And they're yelling several things. They're yelling, “We want medicines, we want food, we want freedom.”

Matt: Why is it so bad there?

Lala: The problem with the Coronavirus medicine is that Cuba decided not to buy from any other country, but to produce its own vaccination. And of the 11 million people, only 2 million have been vaccinated. So the situation is desperate. And then, Cuba closed the entrance through the airport so people could not come. So a lot of the people who have their own little businesses, you know, they have AirBnbs, then all of a sudden, they don't have anything, they don't have any income. And then of course, as the demonstration started, what was the response of the government? First, they went to people's houses and they arrested them. I just got an email from a pastor here in—I'm not gonna say where a pastor here in the United States—that says that four pastors in Cuba have been arrested and taken to prison; they don't even know where they are. So step one in Cuba, is to put people in prison. Step two, wait till you hear this. A lot of young people in Cuba are forced to join the army and be trained at age 14, 15, 16. So the government says you must go out with your arms, and try to fight the demonstrators. And if you refuse to do that, we're gonna put you in prison. So what you see on TV and radio is young people that are being forced to go and fight the demonstrators.

Matt: Do you think that this actually could lead to freedom in Cuba?

Lala: That's a very, very good question. I consulted several people before today. I always go to the absolute experts. The sad thing is that they don't think it’s going to go for freedom, for several [reasons]. One is in Cuba, nobody is allowed to have any weapons, so they cannot rebel. Number two, the ones in power now, you know, it's not Castro, but they have put all their army people in power… so the only way it could lead to something would be if the army itself would rebel against them, and we don't think that's going to happen. In the history of Cuba, the way it has happened before, is that the man in charge, like [former President Fulgencio] Batista, decides to leave. We don't think that this president is going to leave. And in the past, when the president leaves, he's assistant or a second in command leaves too. We don't think that's going to happen, unfortunately. So what we're hoping would happen is that the rest of the world finds a way to help prevent the abuses that happen in Cuba. And also, we are advocating to help Cuba with some supplies and some food and some other some other measures at this point. 

Matt: That actually raises an interesting question, which is, if you want a revolution, if you want a free Cuba, is it good to provide aid right now? Because in a sense, might that calm things down? And do we want things to calm down? I don't mean it might sound harsh, right, because people suffering are desperate. But might that actually suppress the protests?

Lala: That is the question that we constantly have had for 62 years. The Cuban bishops in the United States are advocating for at least helping people so they won't die. On the other end of the spectrum is my nephew, Francis Suarez, and he's the mayor of Miami. He advocates to help people rebel—to help people to [over]throw the government. So that is the most difficult question to answer. I don't know if I have a clear answer, so I just have hope. I think just to be positive. If you think of Germany, what happened in Germany, Reagan, you know, said, “Tear down this wall,” and ultimately the wall came down… So I think if I want to have a dream, that would be my dream, that things are somehow negotiated, and there's a change.

Matt: You are someone who understands the dangers here. You were arrested and went to jail. I have your book here Leaving Cuba: One Family's Journey to Freedom. Why were you arrested?

Lala: Matt, I'm so glad you asked that question, I am so glad, because I want people to hear how communism works. The day they put me in prison was the day of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. And we had never dreamed [that] they were going to put 100,000 people in prison in one or two days. I think [Deputy Premier of the Soviet Union] Anastas Mikoyan had gone there a year before and had prepared Cubans and told Fidel Castro what to do. When you put people in prison, the rest that are not in prison are so scared —and the amount of people in prison 100,000. They didn't have where to put these prisoners, so they put them at a fortress called La Cabaña that had space for 6,000 soldiers. They put 6,000 prisoners there. My dad had done nothing, but he was known to have spoken against the government. There was a Villanova [University] in Cuba, and he was the dean of engineering, so he was well known, and he was a practicing Catholic and against, you know, socialism and communism. So people think, well, what did you do? What did your father do [to get arrested]? Nothing. They just arrest anybody that doesn't believe in communism. And then they put them in prison. And the control that you have is so immense, that people are hungry, and when you get up hungry in the morning, now, all you think is food, what am I going to eat today? So it's amazing that Bernie Sanders and other people are totally brainwashed, and three years after Fidel Castro took over, he had missiles aimed at the United States.

Matt: Am I correct that you met Fidel Castro?

Lala: Did I meet Fidel Castro? Yes, I did, and you know, the most interesting thing is how charming he was. He never slept in his house, he had 20 different houses. We were college students. They told us, if we wanted to talk to him, he was going to cross one bridge in Havana. So we waited there for him and the reason was, because he had made a law closing Villanova in Cuba. And he said, “We, the students in Cuba had to wait for two years,” so the other students in the public university that had been closed for two years had the time to catch up. Ultimately, it was the only law that Fidel later on changed. But we waited at the bridge, and he came and talked to us for about two hours. He was charming, Matt, it was so amazing. He would listen, he would answer, he tried to convince us, and everybody that knew him said that he could be like that in your presence, and the moment that you left, he would say, “Go execute her father. So, um, you know, I have to tell the truth. And that was the charm, that he just convinced everybody in Cuba, that he said, “My revolution is as green as the palm trees,” and it was not. It was as red as communism.

Matt: How did your family get out of prison?

Lala: They let us go, but they kept my dad in the men's prison. And they told my mom that the laboratory at Villanova where dad operated was full of arms and ammunition, and plastic material to make bombs. And they didn't find it when my dad was in prison, but if they would have found that, my dad would have been executed immediately. So my mom became panicked and got very sick, and we found a connection with a relative that was connected to the Brazilian Embassy. And the Brazilian embassy requested from Fidel that they released my dad, and they did. And they really did not have anything against my dad, that they could, you know, catch. So we were able to leave; however, I have an uncle who died in prison, and I had an older uncle who was condemned to 20 years of prison. And the beautiful thing was that his son went [back] to Cuba, and ransomed him after he was in prison for seven years. Initially, there were 50 in Miami that wanted to rescue their parents, but the only one who took to action was my cousin. And Fidel spoke publicly, and said he was going to release his father, Patricio Suarez, because he was very old and sick—and [because] he had a son that was very brave.

Click here to listen to our full conversation.