Hopeful Crowds Brave Miami Downpour to Support Cuban Protesters: ‘We Need to Stand with Them’

Crowds gather outside Florida International University to show support for Cuban protesters. (Ryan Mills)

Miami — Hours of heavy rain on Tuesday did not put a damper on the third day of demonstrations that have erupted across South Florida in support of the uprising in Cuba, where the largest anti-government protests in decades are continuing.

During a near constant afternoon downpour, more than 100 people waved Cuban flags and chanted to honking traffic in front of the famous Cuban-American gathering spot Cafe Versailles in the Little Havana neighborhood. Across the city, another group of demonstrators temporarily blocked highway traffic, chanting “Libertad!” according local news and social media reports.

And in the evening, more than a thousand demonstrators gathered under umbrellas in a park near the campus of Florida International University to wave flags, sing, and to listen to speakers who led chants of “Free Cuba now,” and called for a United Nations intervention on the communist-controlled island.

Gabriela Gutierrez, 18, president of the group Students For a Free Cuba, which helped to organize the Versailles demonstration, was soaked, but she said she didn’t care. While she was born in the U.S., the rest of her family in Cuban-born, and she feels a need to stand with her people, “our blood,” she said.

“Now that our people are out in the streets, we need to stand with them, and we need to show them support,” said Gutierrez, who like many other South Florida demonstrators was hopeful that this latest uprising in Cuba could “be the start of an end” to the island’s 62-year-old communist dictatorship.

Gabriela Gutierrez, who helped organize a demonstration at Cafe Versailles. (Ryan Mills)

The protests in Cuba, the largest since at least the mid-1990s, erupted Sunday. Some mainstream media outlets and political figures have tried to downplay the anti-communist focus, instead trying to link them to economic hardship during the coronavirus pandemic and to the slow rollout of a vaccine on the island (COVID-19 cases hit record numbers in Cuba this month).

Cuba’s president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, has tried to blame the uprising on U.S. sanctions and American mercenaries. But the demonstrators gathered in South Florida on Tuesday were clear this is fundamentally a fight for freedom. Similar demonstrations have been popping up across Florida.

“I want to see my country free,” said Ariel Ramon, 50, who attended the demonstration near FIU with his wife and son. Ramon came to the U.S. 22 years ago. He wishes he was there now, but because he can’t be, “I need to be here,” he said, referring to the demonstration.

The protesters in Cuba are fighting for freedom, he said. “Not communism, not socialism. They want to be free, and now.”

He said he doesn’t like the images coming out of Cuba. People are being harmed, he said, “only for asking to want to be free, nothing more.”

Ramon is hopeful that these Cuban demonstrations could lead to permanent change on the island. The people there are waking up, he said. But any real change will be hard, and likely bloody.

Speaking at a roundtable earlier in Miami earlier in the day, Governor Ron DeSantis had a similar diagnosis for the sudden outburst of energy in Havana and other Cuban cities, insisting that the protesters who stormed the streets on Sunday were fighting against the “death and destruction” wrought by their authoritarian government.

“They are revolting against a corrupt communist dictatorship that has ruled that island for over 60 years, that is responsible for death and destruction,” DeSantis said. “At the end of the day, this is a revolt for fundamental reasons.”

DeSantis also urged the federal government to intervene to help restore open internet access in Cuba after the authorities there throttled access to major social media platforms to prevent protesters from sharing images of police brutality and to disrupt their ability to swiftly organize demonstrations.

VIEW GALLERY: Cuba Protests

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Ryan Mills is a media reporter at National Review. He previously worked for 14 years as a breaking news reporter, investigative reporter, and editor at newspapers in Florida. Originally from Minnesota, Ryan lives in the Fort Myers area with his wife and two sons.


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