MIAMI (WSVN) - On foot and on the water, thousands of people came together in downtown Miami to demand democracy for Cuba and to take part in a massive star-studded rally in front of the Freedom Tower.
7News cameras captured a large crowd of demonstrators standing outside the iconic building as thet chanted, held signs and waved Cuban flags, Saturday afternoon.
SkyForce HD hovered above the growing group as some took advantage of the shade that the Freedom Tower provided to help keep them out of direct sunlight.
Hours earlier, about two dozen supporters in motorcycles drove by in a show of solidarity.
Protesters said it is important that the voices of the Cuban people are heard.
“I think that the monumental voice, the platform of social media that they tried to dim down by taking away the internet, I think that’s bringing awareness that we haven’t seen before,” said protester Caridad Rodriguez. “We’ve heard these stories, but now we’re seeing what is happening over there.”
“Freedom, freedom, not communism. They kill old people, they kill children, they kill women,” said protester Mercedes Abal. “They don’t care about it. They don’t care. It’s a genocide.”
“We’re here to stand alongside and tell them, ‘Cuba, you’re not alone. Miami is here with you,'” said protester Alexander Montero.
In a sea of Cuban and U.S. flags stood 67-year-old Maria Elena Farinas.
“My father was executed on his birthday, on the day of his 40th birthday,” she said. “I am now 27 years older than my father was when he was murdered by Castro.”
Farinas’ father, Joaquin Puebla, was shot by a firing squad in January of 1965, when she was just 11 years old.
“My father’s dying words as he was being executed were, ‘Viva Cuba libre‘ (Long live free Cuba),” she said.
The section of Biscayne Boulevard where the Freedom Tower is located remained blocked off for hours. City of Miami Police helped redirect traffic onto Northeast Second Avenue.
Police officers cleared an alleyway near the Torch of Friendship and Bayside Marketplace so that protesters could march back and forth.
The rally was hosted by Cuban American singers Jencarlos Canela and Willy Chirino, as well as music executive Emilio Estefan and others.
“My dad’s pain is my pain. My mom’s pain is my pain. My grandparents’ pain is my pain,” said Canela. “That’s the blood that flows through our veins.”
Organizers showed videos that, they said, were shot in the island nation, showing police crackdowns and protests.
But the rally was not the only event that was held Saturday in downtown Miami calling for Cuba’s freedom. Demonstrators made waves — literally — as dozens of boats gathered in front of Maurice Ferre Park, near the Freedom Tower.
Organizer Ramon Saul Sanchez, an outspoken critic of the Cuban regime, said he fled the country when he was 12.
“We’re here to say to the world, ‘Please support the Cuban people to get rid of this dictatorship,'” he said.
Since Cuba is just 90 miles off the shores of Florida, Sanchez said, he wanted to host his event on the water as a symbolic gesture.
“Someday, we would like to depart and reunite with our people in Cuba to help them — to help the struggle and then to help them rebuild Cuba,” he said.
Further north, in Hialeah, demonstrators lined the streets as they chanted and held signs following a march, Saturday afternoon.
The march started at the intersection of West 49th Street and 16th Avenue, and it ended on West 37th Street.
Among those taking part in the Hialeah event was Yazmin Gonzalez.
“I’m a first generation Cuban American. I’m very, very proud to be an American, but today, I’m even prouder to be Cuban,” she said. “Cuba, keep going, keep pushing. We’re here for you. We are not going to stop until we get our freedom, our liberty. All we want is freedom.”
As the sun went down, protesters outside the Freedom Tower marched to the edge of the water to join the boaters in a show of support for the Cuban people.
Demonstrator Alexander Rodriguez said his father has been activist for decades, and they still have family in Cuba.
“I won the lottery by being born here, and we can’t just forget about them,” he said.
The Freedom Tower holds special significance for demonstrators because it was used as a processing center for Cuban refugees escaping the revolution in the 1960s and early 1970s, much like Ellis Island was used for European immigrants in the early 20th century.
Farinas said her father would have been proud to see Cubans still resisting.
“I know that he proudly gave his life for the freedom of his country,” she said.
Demonstrators remained outside the Freedom Tower for hours after the rally ended.
When asked whether they’re concerned this series of demonstrations will die down and things will go back to normal, every protester who spoke to 7News said no. They believe this is a movement that is currently unstoppable.
“It’s important to show to the people in Cuba that we stand with them,” said Rodriguez.
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