By Hank Tester

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The images out of Cuba are stunning.

Across the island, there have been major anti-regime demonstrations – cries for “libertad.”

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Cuban historians say there’s never been anything like it, which is echoed by a man who departed the island in the early 90s.

“What I see now is something like I never seen before. The faces. In 60 plus years I have never seen the Cuban people do what they are doing now,” said Alex Garcia.

In 1992, Garcia and a pal they rowed and sailed a kayak 90 miles across the Florida Straits to freedom in the U.S.

They were spotted by the airborne humanitarian group Brothers to the Rescue.

It was a different time and dynamic. Until U.S. policy changed, the Straits of Florida teemed with rafters escaping Cuba’s communist oppression.

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But now with the “wet foot, dry foot” regulations gone, Garcia says “they are staying, they are doing something that my generation did not do.”

After Garcia reached America, he became a Miami-Dade County school teacher and an avid runner. He returned to Cuba in 2015, producing a documentary film about his run from one end of the island to the other.

Along the way, meeting the Cuban people, he observed the sentiments that today have motivated the younger generations to openly defy the socialist/communist system.

“I saw people desperate for something to happen. Obviously they were not ready for what they are doing now,” Garcia said. “But in every town I go by every person, they are looking for something to happen.”

No one is quite sure what lit the fuse. COVID, food shortage, regime fatigue, the lust for freedom, the internet? They also aren’t sure if the street demonstrations will continue. But what happened was certainly historic.

“That’s why I take my hat off to the Cuban people now. This is big. I see a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Garcia.

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The revolution is 62 years old. This is the first time that the communist party has seen widespread opposition to the Cuban socialist/communist system. And the ability to control the dissidents in the long term is being questioned.