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Jacksonville woman's mother, 82-year-old grandmother flee Cuba

Heidys Sancho says after she protested in Jacksonville for freedom in Cuba, her family in Cuba was retaliated against. They fled the country.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — This time last year the hashtag "SOS Cuba" could be seen drawn on car windows in Jacksonville and a demonstration even shut down part of I-95.

The 'freedom for Cuba' protests were echoing the largest anti-government protests in Cuba since the 1959 revolution. But what has changed since then?

The U.S. is now seeing a spike in Cuban migrants. At least 140,000 Cubans have fled to the U.S. from October to May, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol data. Two of those people were Heidys Sancho's mother and grandmother.

"Nothing good happen in Cuba since that day," said Heidys Sancho.

'That day' Sancho is talking about is when Cubans took to the streets in protest last July. Sancho was standing with them in a protest in Jacksonville. Now, she says something she told First Coast News last year that is still true.

"They no have medicine," Sancho said. "They no have food, they no have freedom."

Sancho knows this because her mother and grandmother just fled Cuba to Nicaragua, crossing three other countries too, to get to the U.S. last month.

"Even my grandma with 82 years old, she put her life literally in risk," Sancho said. "With 82 years old, leave a country and come over four countries and cross a river, just for be free, just for have some rights. That is incredible."

They sold everything, using the money to escape. Sancho says after she protested in Jacksonville for freedom in Cuba, the government retaliated against her family in Cuba.

"That was a big problem for my family in Cuba because they start knocking in their doors and say, 'Hey, what is your daughter doing?'" she said.

In Cuba, nearly 500 people have reportedly been convicted and sentenced in connection to the protests, which human rights organizations call intimidation by the Cuban government.

"I hope something change," Sancho said. "Nothing's gonna happen if the Cubans no have help from outside."

Sancho says she is less hopeful than she was last year, but still feels a lot of determination.

In other parts of Florida, there have been protests over the lack of change in Cuba in the past year.


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