Small Florida flotilla returns from Cuba after showing support for protesters and democracy

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A small flotilla of boats returned to Miami on Saturday night after sailing off the Cuban coast and setting off fireworks and flares in support of the Cuban people and democracy.

The boaters had left Miami on Friday morning.

“We also want to draw the attention of the US government to the fact that it has to do something,” organizer Jose Portieles told The Associated Press. “We feel identified with what is going on in the protests in Cuba. We could be the ones there.”

“We also want to draw attention to the United States government that it needs to do something.”

– José Portieles, organizer of the flotilla

Cuba saw the boats as a provocation. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez called the flotilla illegal and urged the US government to stop it “to avoid incidents that are not in the interest of anyone.”

The US Coast Guard has warned boaters that it would be illegal for them to leave US waters with the intention of entering Cuban territorial waters. However, for those who intended to approach only Cuban waters, the agency simply advised against doing so.

The boats would have remained in international waters.

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Boater Marcos Suarez told WSVN-TV in Miami that the experience gave him “chills”.

“They are going to see us,” said organizer Osdany Veloz as the boaters set off the fireworks. “They are going to see us, and they are going to see that we are there for them.”

“They will see that we are there for them.”

– Osdany Veloz, organizer of the flotilla

Portieles said most of the boaters were Cuban-American entrepreneurs who know each other from the South Florida nautical community and share a desire to see a free Cuba.

Boaters also thanked the Coast Guard for making the trip possible, WSVN reported.

Historically, Cubans took to the streets in droves earlier this month to protest food shortages, high prices and other grievances against the government.

Ramon Saul Sanchez, left, leader of the nonprofit Movimiento Democracia which has launched several flotillas in the past, helps boater Julio Gonzalez moor his boat, Friday, July 23, 2021, in downtown Miami.  (Associated press)
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Ramon Saul Sanchez, left, leader of the nonprofit Movimiento Democracia which has launched several flotillas in the past, helps boater Julio Gonzalez moor his boat, Friday, July 23, 2021, in downtown Miami. (Associated press)

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel acknowledged the government’s shortcomings in the run-up to the unrest in the country after the protests began.

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He has been widely criticized for the country’s violent crackdown and internet blackouts.

“We have to gain experience from the unrest,” he said in a speech earlier this month. “We must also critically analyze our problems to act and overcome, and avoid their repetition.”

Edmund DeMarche of Fox News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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