One chant coming from protesters in Cuba loomed large for José Buscaglia, a global studies professor at Northeastern, as he watched coverage of an unprecedented anti-government outpouring of anger at the communist country’s strict totalitarian regime on Sunday.

“One of the things that they were shouting in the streets is, ‘We’re no longer afraid,’” says Buscaglia, who has focused his studies in the Caribbean as professor of cultures, societies and global studies at Northeastern. Protesters knew the government would likely retaliate as they did Monday and Tuesday, but they marched anyway.

“In a country notorious for their draconian methods of eliminating opposition and the terrible ways that they torture people, for people to be out in the streets in those numbers, and yelling ‘We’re no longer afraid,’ that’s a very important turn of events,” he says.

The unheard-of open dissent in the territory is the result of a pandemic-based “economic meltdown,” says Buscaglia, that‘s left residents without essentials such as food and electricity. The movement is also propelled by a younger generation demanding basic civil liberties.

“It’s mostly led by young, very poor people asking for freedoms and basic rights that are currently not allowed, like the right to assemble and the right to free speech,” he says.

The protests sparked swift backlash this week as the Cuban police arrested more than 100 people and the government restricted internet access. President Miguel Díaz-Canel, meanwhile, blamed the country’s struggles on strict sanctions from the United States and blasted influencers on social media for live-streaming the events.

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