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May 20th in Cuba: An Unforgettable Day

Normando Hernandez at the George W. Bush Institution's Freedom Collection:


In his book Cuba: Early Years of Independence (1911), Rafael Ortiz writes that on May 20th, 1902 in Cuba, “The joy was general and it was legitimate; Cubans were touching  their dreams … all parties held up until ‘then’ had been pale compared to those celebrated on that memorable date.” Nothing else could be expected from Cubans after four centuries of Spanish colonization and three years of U.S. occupation.

It wasn’t just the Cuban diaspora celebrating the birth of the new republic. Tampa’s newspaper, The Morning Tribune, in a review entitled “The Cuban Citizens Hail Their New Republic,” reported: “There were few houses in Ybor City and West Tampa that did not join the consecration of Cuba Libre (Free Cuba). Homes and businesses of Cuban residents in Tampa were festooned with flags and portraits of Cuban heroes… American merchants, also enthusiastic, showed their joy decorating their businesses with the colors of Cuba. Sponsored by the National Cuban Club, there were several functions with music, speeches, fireworks, parties and religious services, which made this Cuban ’4th of July celebration’ in Tampa impossible to forget for Cubans and all other citizens.”

Unfortunately, in Cuba these celebrations only lasted 57 years. The Castro brothers came to power in 1959 and rejected May 20th as a holiday. Thankfully, Cubans haven’t allowed anyone to snatch their history from them. They continue to celebrate May 20th in Cuba under Castro’s repression. Those living in the diaspora, like their predecessors in 1902, celebrate it as well.

Americans continue to celebrate with them. We cannot forget the solidarity of President George W. Bush, who during his eight years in office, never let May 20th pass without sending messages of support to Cubans on this significant date. We recall that on May 20th, 2007, President Bush publicly announced shipments of cell phones to Cuba to help break through the regime’s monopoly on information.  Moreover, we remember his Initiative for a New Cuba , the Commission for Supporting a Free Cuba and his proclamation of a day of solidarity with the Cuban people.

We hope that one day soon, with continued solidarity between Cubans and Americans, Cuba can once again celebrate new freedoms, as it did in 1902. For that, we continue our struggle.  As President Bush said: “We do not wait for the day of freedom in Cuba; we work for the day of freedom in Cuba.”


Normando Hernández is a Cuban dissident and former prisoner of conscience. Learn more about his story here.

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