Had you been on Central Wellington's Cuba Street last Sunday afternoon, you would have encountered a demonstration backed by vibrant Latino music and synchronised salsa dancing.
Meanwhile, a diverse group of people dressed in blue, red and white (the colours of the Cuban flag) chanted, "Patria y vida" (homeland and life). A play on the current, and rather bleak, Cuban moto, "Patria o muerte" (homeland or death).
Appreciating the value of their freedom, these people came to show their support for the ongoing protests in Cuba, hoping that one day their loved ones would be able to share that same freedom.
In the middle of the crowd, Dr Patricia Rubio-Reyes, brandishing a Cuban flag, declared:
"The Cuban government projects an illusion to the world that we are all happy with how the country is run. We want the world to know that Cubans are not happy. We want change, we want freedom. Cuba Libre."
On July 11, 2021, Rubio-Reyes heard the news she had been waiting for her entire life: mass protests had broken out in Cuba against its authoritarian regime. Having spent the first 24 years of her life living in oppression and financial hardship, Rubio-Reyes wants the world to know what life is really like behind Cuba's smoke and mirrors government.
As a child, Rubio-Reyes remembers starting the day with breakfast: one guava fruit split into four equal parts and shared between the four members of her family. Before any of her classes, she and her classmates would enthusiastically sing the national anthem.
Immediately afterwards, one person would chant "Pioneers por el comunismo" (pioneers for communism) and everyone would respond "Seremos como el Che"(we will be like Che).
Despite the limited resources and funding, the education Patricia received was excellent. Possessing a proclivity towards science, she was pushed to achieve her potential from a young age and challenged to apply her knowledge to scientific research.
After school, she arrived home to eagerly greet her father as he returned from a long day working as an engineer. He would then quickly rush off to his illegal evening job as a taxi driver. There was nothing unusual about this, it was how everyone she knew lived. Everyone's parents had illegal side jobs just so they could make ends meet.
Most of her friends lived in tiny houses among several generations of family because they could never afford to move out of their parents' or grandparents' house.
Amongst all this, it was accepted that dissent was legally prohibited and socially rejected.
Cuba's economic crisis is a complex issue which results from, among other factors, international embargos put in place by the US government and national regulations which limit individual commerce, ensuring total ownership and control by the government.
Cuba's history is equally complex.
In 1959 Fidel Castro led Cuba's revolution to overthrow the brutal dictator Fulgencio Batista, who was avidly supported by the US government.
"This was something Cuba needed at the time. Fidel Castro liberated Cuba. He implemented free education and healthcare. Literacy rates and life expectancy soared and they still do."
With no democratic elections and only one party, Castro stayed in power until 2008 after which his brother became Cuba's leader. The current leader, Miguel Díaz-Canel, also has close ties to the Castro family.
Rubio-Reyes believes that, since 1959, the values of the party have been diluted. The distribution of wealth has become concentrated within a tiny section of the government. Nepotism is rampant.
Judging that this wasn't the life she wanted for herself, Rubio-Reyes applied to do her PhD in New Zealand and now works at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research where she is developing better cancer therapies.
"The biggest shock for me when I moved to New Zealand was that every aspect of life presents you with choice. Even seemingly small things like, you can buy seeded bread, or brown bread or white bread and all made by every bread company. In Cuba there was just the government's unbranded 'bread', whether you liked it or not."
Over the last 18 months, we have seen the pandemic force countries to face their individual social and political shortcomings. The compounding effect of economic hardship and pandemic death toll has finally caused Cubans to reach a tipping point.
It is the spark that has ignited the largest protests in Cuba in over 30 years.
"What we want is freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom to choose our leaders, and freedom to earn a living wage."
It is not a matter of whether communism, socialism or capitalism is better. The way she sees it, these are words that describe ideals but do not represent reality. Human nature and our rapidly changing societies often get in the way of the rigid systems we seek to create. What can allow societies to adapt to this change is democracy. That way, governments can evolve with the people.
"I know some people in Cuba don't share my beliefs," Rubio-Reyes says. "Even my close family members have criticised me for openly speaking out against the government and its policies. They say that I'm disrespecting the revolution that happened 60 years ago.
"But my response is that it's time for a new revolution."