SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE, FLA. (WSVN) - Authorities have cleared demonstrators from the Palmetto Expressway in Southwest Miami-Dade and in Hialeah, who marched in support of the Cuban people and their recent protests, causing the roadways to be shut down for hours.
The Hialeah surge happened at around 9:30 p.m., just around when Miami-Dade Police and Florida Highway Patrol troopers had reopened the expressway in Southwest Miami-Dade.
“What does it mean for me? For my family to have freedom,” a Hialeah protester said. “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!”
Protesters were first seen on the highway near Coral Way and Southwest 32nd Street chanting “Libertad!” and holding signs, at around 1 p.m., Tuesday.
“We said, ‘We have to stop, and we have to stop on the Palmetto. That’s where we’re going to get the attention for the people,'” a protester said. “These are Cuban Americans. These are Cubans. People are suffering on the island. They’re dying, and it’s not because of COVID. They’re dying because they’re killing them, and for the first time in 60 years, that island has flipped upside down. They said that Camaguey has been taken over by the Cuban people.”
“These are the real people that are suffering, that have family members in Cuba now dying,” said another protester.
The highway was shut down in both directions because of the protests, and the closure led to increased traffic on surface streets in the area. Authorities said the protesters were cleared from that part of the expressway just after 10 p.m. The highway has since reopened.
Officers could be seen wearing tactical gear on the highway as they worked to clear the demonstrators.
“These people are asking for liberty,” a protester said. “The people here, they’re willing to go to Cuba and die. These people are asking for liberty, and they want to make sure that Biden hears their screams. They want to make sure Biden at least says a statement saying, ‘We acknowledge what’s going on. We need to do something about it.'”
While protesters were on the Palmetto, dozens of demonstrators gathered along West 49th Street near 16th Avenue in Hialeah.
The protesters there have been running onto the street as the traffic light turns red. Once the light turns green again, they are pushed back by police towards the sidewalk.
Hours later, a group of protesters from the Hialeah demonstration walked onto the Palmetto’s southbound lanes at Northwest 103rd Street/West 49th Street. This caused both the northbound and southbound lanes to be shut down to traffic.
The protesters have since been cleared off the highway, and all lanes have reopened.
In April, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed, what he called, an “anti-riot bill” that prohibits blocking roads during a protest. The bill’s signing came on the heels of the George Floyd protests in summer 2020.
“We also have penalties for people that commandeer highways, which we saw in other parts of the country,” DeSantis said after signing the bill. “Just think about it: you’re driving home from work and all of the sudden, you have people out there shutting down a highway. We worked hard to make sure that didn’t happen in Florida. They start to do that, there needs to be swift penalties, and that’s just something that cannot do that.”
Miami-Dade Police and Florida Highway Patrol troopers have not enforced the law, and they allowed protesters to remain on the expressway for several hours.
The demonstrations come after a historic uprising in Cuba took place over the weekend, and Cubans gathered in droves, calling for change and freedom.
Protests held in several cities and towns were some of the biggest displays of anti-government sentiment seen in years in tightly controlled Cuba, which is facing a surge in coronavirus cases as it struggles with its worst economic crisis in decades as a consequence of U.S. sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump’s administration.
Cuban Americans in South Florida are also participating in demonstrations to show their solidarity for their loved ones on the island.
“We need help,” another protester said. “We don’t need food. We don’t need vaccinations. We don’t need medicine. We need freedom! We need freedom! That’s all we want! And that’s all we need! That’s all my family back home needs. Freedom. Nothing else.”
“All we want to do is continue our life without being oppressed,” a third protester said. “We want freedom. We want clean water. We want electricity. We want food. We want medicine for the people who are dying. People are dying from ear infections! Something that you can take a pill with! They’re dying!”
“This needs to end,” a fourth protester said. “Biden, please, we beg you! Please help out our families that are over there that are dying of hunger!”
Another protest was held in Northwest Miami-Dade along Okeechobee Road, just west of the Florida Turnpike.
Demonstrators there blocked two lanes in each direction of the roadway. Troopers parked their vehicles alongside the road to make sure one lane of traffic continued to flow during the protest.
Dozens of protesters could be seen waving Cuban flags, and drivers could be heard honking their horns in support. Some semitrailers were painted on with messages of support for the cause.
One man who attended the Northwest Miami-Dade protest said he plans to continue demonstrating until President Joe Biden intervenes.
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