MIAMI (WSVN) - As thousands of people hold protests in parts of Cuba to call for change, South Florida’s Cuban American community took to the streets of Miami-Dade County in a show of solidarity, eliciting an outpouring of support from local leaders.
Sunday afternoon’s protest outside Versailles Restaurant resulted in the closure of Southwest Eighth Street between 32nd and 37th avenues. This portion of the roadway remained closed to traffic until late Sunday night.
7News cameras captured hundreds of people holding up Cuban flags and signs near the restaurant.
Sunday night, cameras showed a large gathering outside La Carreta along the 8600 block of Southwest 40th Street in Southwest Miami-Dade.
Protesters said they are calling for an end to the island nation’s decades-old authoritarian regime.
“Free Cuba. That’s what we’re here for,” said a demonstrator who identified herself as Karina.
“We’re claiming our rights for the first time,” said another demonstrator.
Hundreds of protesters who packed Southwest Eighth Street demanded the basic necessities for their families and friends in Cuba. They said those on the island have suffered for a long time.
“I have lots of family. I have brothers, I have aunts, I have nieces. There’s nothing; there’s no food or medicine,” said Karina. “They have nothing.”
“The military in my country are in the streets, are beating people, are shooting people, and it is very important the international community raises their voice,” said advocate Rosa Maria Paya.
Protester Amalia Buttafoco said her family in Cuba is also struggling.
“People are dying. My brother had a fever for the past three days, no medication. My little niece has epilepsy, has no medication,” she said. “She may die because we can’t send her the medication.”
For decades, Cubans have lived under a dictatorship, most of it under the Castro regime.
“People are coming out and protesting and saying, ‘You know what? We’re not afraid of you? You know what? We’re tired of socialism. We don’t want any more socialism,” said a demonstrator. “They’re chanting, ‘We’re hungry,’ and they’re chanting that they want their liberty, OK? And it wasn’t just one town. Then it was another and another and another.”
Dr. Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat with the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance said the Cuban protesters’ plight needs to be heard.
“We must listen to what they’re saying. They’re saying, ‘Down with dictatorship.’ They’re saying that they want freedom for Cuba. They want change,” he said.
At around 6:30 p.m., Miami Mayor Francis Suarez stood on the bed of a pickup truck next to Versailles and spoke to the growing crowd.
Suarez addressed the Cuban protests earlier on Sunday. He called for an international intervention led by the U.S.
“Cubans are worthy and ready to rule themselves without tyranny. It can end today, and it must end today,” he said. “The implications of this moment can mean freedom for millions of people in this hemisphere: for Nicaraguans to Venezuelans and so many more.”
Lieutenant Governor of Florida Jeanette Núñez also showed her support by attending a protest.
“You see those images, images that we’ve never seen in 60-plus years of a communist Cuba, it gives me the hope that this is really the moment; this is the opportunity they need,” she said.
Speaking on national TV, Cuban President Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel said, “We will not allow any of our people to support the government of the United States, support the empire, receive money from its agencies, letting themselves be manipulated by all these strategies of ideological subversion to provoke destabilization in this country.”
The unrest in Cuba comes as the island struggles to contain a COVID-19 outbreak.
As for what they would like to see happen next, some protesters said they want President Joe Biden to get involved and talk to Cuban officials and try to help solve this problem.
Although the demonstrators in South Florida are unable to march alongside their loved ones in Cuba, they said they want the people in the island nation to know that they can feel their pain.
“They need to know they’re not alone, that we’re here, we’re with them,” said Buttafoco. “We want them to be free.”
Miami Police began asking protesters to disperse at around 11 p.m. Southwest Eighth Street has since reopened to traffic.
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