Cuba lifts restrictions on importing food and medicines as protests continue in South Florida

Protesters in South Florida carried on with events to show solidarity with demonstrations in Cuba for the second day in a row, their flags still in hand, their chants still echoing.

Crowds in Cuba have been protesting the lack of basic goods such as food, internet access and COVID-19 vaccines. They’re also demanding a change from Cuba’s Communist government, which has ruled the island for decades.

The Cuba Ministry of Higher Education said Cuba will allow passengers flying to the island to bring unlimited food, hygiene and medicine products with no import fees starting Monday through Dec. 31, The Miami Herald reported late Wednesday.

At Forest Hill Boulevard and Military Trail in West Palm Beach, about 100 people gathered on the street corner with handmade signs and Cuban flags chanting at the cars driving by, video from WPBF-Ch. 25 showed. In Miami, city officials hosted a concert put on by local Cuban-American artists. Miami police told WPLG-Ch.10 they prepared for thousands to show up to the event at Southwest Eighth Street (Calle Ocho).

A protest was held in Miami at Versailles Restaurant, a well-known gathering place for such events, according to WFOR-Ch. 4.

Miami-Dade County officials have planned a news conference with Cuban community leaders at 10 a.m. Thursday in a nonpartisan bid to “show solidarity and support to end the horrific humanitarian crisis in Cuba,” according to a release.

Protesters brought traffic to a halt Tuesday on the busy Palmetto Expressway in Miami-Dade. Emotions ran high as crowd chanted “Patria y Vida,” which translates to “Homeland and Life.” The Miami Herald reported that nearly 1,000 protesters blocked both sides of the expressway for about nine hours.

There were reports of Florida Highway Patrol troopers on the expressway telling protesters they were unlawfully assembling and needed to disperse or be arrested. No one was arrested.

“What does it mean for me? For my family to have freedom,” a protester from Hialeah said to WSVN-Ch. 7. “My family needs freedom. They need food. I hope this is the end of a long awaited time that we’ve been needing this forever. For as long as I remember, I’m 38 years old, and my family has been going through so much, and we’re sick of this!”

Similar events took place in other Florida cities, such as Orlando and Jacksonville, but not everyone agrees with the strategy of blocking the roads.

“It is backfiring, and rightfully so,” Raul Masvidal, a Miami resident and prominent Cuban exile who left the island nation in 1960, told WFOR-Ch. 4.

“We don’t have a right to block the streets. I don’t think that we can inconvenience the other 70% who have nothing to do with this,” he said.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez told FOX News Tuesday night that “what should be contemplated right now is a coalition of potential military action in Cuba.” the Herald reported. But Suarez later said he wasn’t advocating military action.

“I’m not a military expert,” he said. “I’m not going to sit here and opine on what kind of military intervention should be used.”

Questions have arisen about whether the protests are illegal in light of the state’s new anti-protest law — championed and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in response to 2020 social justice demonstrations the MAGA movement didn’t like. Some, such as the Florida Highway Patrol, have said the demonstrations that block traffic are “breaking the law.”

When DeSantis signed anti-riot legislation into law in April, he said: “Just think about it, you’re driving home from work, and all of a sudden, you have people out there shutting down a highway, and we worked hard to make sure that didn’t happen in Florida. … They start to do that, [then] there needs to be swift penalties.”

In Tampa, two men were arrested on charges of battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting law enforcement and taking part in an unlawful assembly that blocked streets or sidewalks, the Tampa Bay Times reported. One person was arrested on a charge of unlawful assembly in Orlando.

Florida Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book of Plantation, along with other members of the state Senate Democratic leadership team including state Sens. Bobby Powell Jr. and Lori Berman of Palm Beach County, attempted to hoist Florida Republicans with their own petard over the law now that a key element of the Republican base is taking to the streets.

“These movements lay bare the soul of our Great State and the heartbeat of our people. Throughout each of these demonstrations — for safe streets, safe communities, and democracy for all — we have seen an underlying theme: powerful, visceral, human expressions of free speech that are, or should be, lawful,” the senators wrote to Attorney General Ashley Moody.

“Some who are rightfully passionate to see freedom reign on the island of Cuba have and continue to shut down major thoroughfares from coast to coast. We are pleased and frankly thankful that the draconian and anti-democratic measures contained within HB 1 have not been weaponized against those who are peacefully protesting.”

In a letter addressed to President Joe Biden, DeSantis urged the president to help provide internet access to Cubans who have been diligently documenting the protests and violence in the streets.

“The Cuban people have lost their ability to communicate with one another, and many Floridians born in Cuba have no information on the safety of their loved ones,” DeSantis, in part, wrote in the letter. “Equally as important, the world has also lost the ability to see what is happening on the ground as the Cuban people rise in support of freedom.”

DeSantis said the U.S. must be able to send information to Cubans and receive information from them.

Many supporters have been using the hashtag #SOSCuba on Twitter.

“Think about the statement, ‘SOS Cuba,’ ” West Palm Beach event organizer Rick Gonzalez told WPEC-Ch. 12. “ ‘SOS,’ what does that stand for? SOS was always about, we need help. They’re calling the world to come and help. The time to help is now.”

Demonstrators protest the unrest in Cuba as they block the major intersection of Curry Ford Road and Semoran Boulevard in Orlando on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

Demonstrators protest the unrest in Cuba as they block the major intersection of Curry Ford Road and Semoran Boulevard in Orlando on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel) (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

In Jacksonville, protesters blocked part of Interstate 95 near Atlantic Boulevard according to The Florida Times-Union. When law enforcement got involved, the protesters left a short time later without incident.

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The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office later released a statement that said, in part, “While JSO supports protesters and their right to peacefully take a stand for their cause, the blocking of interstate roadways is an illegal act.”

“[The protesters] are in violation of the law,” Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Joe Sanchez told the Miami Herald on Tuesday night, “but you have to have patience. You can’t come out here and arrest everybody.”

Staff writer Anthony Man contributed to this report.

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