Demonstrators showing solidarity with the thousands of Cubans who took part in a rare weekend of protests across their island nation shut down a stretch of a major South Florida expressway on Tuesday.
The large crowd gathered at a busy Miami intersection, chanting support for the Cubans, who took to the streets in the communist country on Sunday to express their dissatisfaction with poor economic conditions and other issues.
Hundreds of supporters gathered for hours Tuesday evening at a park a few miles (kilometers) away. The peaceful crowd waved flags and applauded the island protesters’ efforts. Flavia Pérez, 16, was brought to the United States at the age of one. She spoke at the Tamiami Park rally, saying, “I’m here to support young Cubans on the island so they have the same opportunities as I have in the United States.”
South Florida has the largest Cuban American population in the United States.
WTVJ news helicopter footage from earlier Tuesday showed demonstrators marching to Miami’s Palmetto Expressway, where many blocked traffic in the afternoon.
In other news, Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, hosted a round table discussion with elected officials, including members of Congress. The event at Miami’s American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora was closed to reporters, but the governor later claimed that the protests in Cuba were about more than just a lack of vaccines, food, and other necessities.
Last year, nationwide protests under the Black Lives Matter movement drew attention to racial injustice in the United States following the deaths of Black people by police. Earlier this year, DeSantis signed legislation into Florida law that strengthens penalties for violent protestors and allows criminal penalties for those who organize violent protests. DeSantis dismissed comparisons between Black Lives Matter and the demonstrators on Tuesday. “These are people rebelling against a communist dictatorship,” the governor explained. He described the Miami protests as “fundamentally different than what we saw last summer.”
When asked how Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration should handle Cuba policy, DeSantis, who is said to be considering a run for the White House in 2024, declined a direct response. However, he stated that federal officials should not be satisfied with minor concessions made by the Cuban government in order to quell demonstrations.
Republican U.S. Rep. Mara Elvira Salazar, a daughter of Cuban exiles, said the community must speak with one voice, urging the Biden administration to be tough on Cuban government.
Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard in Miami has been on the lookout for any “unsafe and illegal” crossings between Florida and Cuba in response to the island’s rare street protests.
Rear Adm. Eric C. Jones issued a warning statement Monday night, as groups of Cuban immigrants announced plans to travel to Cuba in boats loaded with supplies to show solidarity with the Cuban protesters.
Thousands of Cuban Americans gathered in Miami’s Little Havana over the weekend to support Cuban street marches against high prices and food shortages on the island. Such unofficial protests are extremely rare, and Cuban police were out in force Monday to keep them in check. The last such protests in Havana occurred in 1994. President Miguel Diaz-Canel accused Cuban Americans of encouraging them on social media.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, a Cuban-American, stated on Twitter that he has never “felt such raw emotion from the people of Miami desperate for intervention by the government and by themselves on behalf of Cuba.”
Miami was not the only Florida city where protesters congregated. For the second day in a row, Cuban-Americans in Tampa gathered at an intersection on Tuesday, blocking traffic and waving Cuban flags. Tampa demonstrators attempted to gain access to Interstate 275, as did those in South Florida, but were stopped by police. Television images showed dozens of protesters in a city that traces its Cuban heritage back generations.