MIAMI – A small group of protesters met Friday morning at a marina behind Bayside before they headed toward Cuba.
The group left shortly before 8 a.m., and will stop in Key West to refuel before making their way toward the island.
The protesters who planned the event want to show their support for the Cuban people who are going through a humanitarian crisis. They want to show their solidarity with the thousands of Cubans who continue to protest on the island, calling for an end to the decades-old communist regime.
“It’s super important because I’m Cuban. You know, I left when I was 13 years old, so it’s super important and just like all of them, supporting my family, supporting, you know, the people in Cuba,” one boater said while pointing to the other boaters who had gathered.
The group isn’t trying to take anything to the island, but are doing this strictly to show support for people in Cuba.
“We want the Cuban community to see us and see that we’re there to help them out,” Osdany Veloz said.
One Cuban woman, Elizabeth Cintra Garcia recorded video of herself before she presented herself at a military unit after she was cited following those widespread protests two weekends ago on the island.
Her mother says Cintra Garcia remains detained in a women’s prison in Santa Clara, charged with disrespect of authorities, epidemic spread, public disorder and inciting others to protest.
Reports continue to come out of Cuba that protesters are being sentenced to jail without just trials.
Cintra Garcia’s mother said she has no words to express her pain as her 20-year-old daughter is now awaiting trial simply for protesting the government.
She’s calling on the international community to speak up on behalf of all the young people in Cuba who will be unjustly prosecuted.
In her video, Cintra Garcia said if anything happens to her, she blames the Cuban government.
“I was born in Cuba and my family is Cuba and I just hurt for the Cuban people,” explained Luis Machado of SOS Cuba Flotilla. “I just want to help get their message out there.”
“Everybody is trying something different, a different way of getting to the media, and this is the other way to get to the media. We need to be heard, the Cuban people need to be heard,” he added.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard will be checking the South Florida protesters’ boats by air and water, but will not be escorting them toward the island.
“We are not escorting folks and we have had zero permits submitted for anyone to cross into Cuban territorial waters,” Petty Officer Nicole Groll, of the U.S. Coast Guard, told Local 10 News. “So essentially, these folks are going boating, and they’re going boating together and from what I understand (it’s) a small group, and if they go into international waters, that’s up to them. As long as they do not cross into Cuban territorial waters, nothing they are doing is illegal.”
The group plans to stay on idle surrounding the island and at sunset, they will light up the sky with Chinese lanterns, fireworks and flares to let the island nation know they’re in support of their cause.
“They’re gonna physically see the fireworks, they’re going to physically see the boats there, so I think it’s going to be something that is very strong and very powerful for them,” Veloz said.
Groll said the Coast Guard is urging the boaters to save their flares for an emergency situation.
Coast Guard volunteer, Jim Gillernan, inspected the boats before they headed out.
“Where these boats are going is into the straits of Florida, and those folks that have been into the straits of Florida know the straits of Florida can be a pretty treacherous body of water pretty quickly,” said Gillernan.
The Coast Guard will monitor their voyage and will be on stand-by in case of an emergency.
“Once we get to international waters, we’re going to wait until the sun goes down to be able to launch some flares, some fireworks, and be seen,” Veloz added.
An avid boater told Local 10 News that it takes four to five hours to get from Miami to Key West by boat, and then, depending on the boat, about four hours or more to get from Key West to Cuba.
The group expects to arrive 15 nautical miles outside of Havana by 5:30 p.m. and will head back to Key West at sunset.
“My message to the Cuban people is to stay strong, keep fighting for your rights and Cuba libre hopefully soon,” Veloz said.
Machado added, “Family members came here on a raft. You know, the least we could do, we’ve waited for a perfectly calm day.”
“We’re here to keep them fighting because if you guys stop reporting, this it’s all going to go away, and they’re going to win, and that’s sad, really sad,” he said.