Miami Boaters Make Plans to Protest Off the Coast of Cuba

mike mcbey
Miami is home to the largest concentration of small boats in Florida, as well as the hub of the Cuban expatriate community (file image courtesy Mike McBey / CC BY 2.0)

Published Jul 15, 2021 10:56 PM by The Maritime Executive

A group of boaters in South Florida is making plans to organize a flotilla to sail towards Cuba - but not all the way - in order to show support for Cuban citizens who have taken to the streets in recent weeks. 

Cuba's economy has been hammered by the COVID-19 shutdown, with its cash-earning tourism industry effectively shuttered. Basic goods, including food and medicine, are in short supply, and long lines have become a common sight. In response, protests have broken out in multiple locations across the country. 

Demonstrations against the government are very rare in Cuba, and are usually met with force; this round of protests is no exception, and Cuban activists estimate that about 100 people have gone missing in a sweeping crackdown. The government of President Miguel Diàz-Canel is also deploying internet shutdowns to control communications between regions, according to the U.S. State Department. 

President Diàz-Canel has accused the United States of providing the demonstrators with support, and with reason: the Biden administration has embraced the protest movement, calling Cuban communism a "failed ideology" and pledging to "support the voices of the Cuban people." 

"[Cuba's Communist Party] has been . . . an authoritarian, communist regime that has repressed its people and has failed the people of Cuba," said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday. 

In South Florida, the center of the Cuban expatriot community, the protests are drawing widespread grassroots support. The boat flotilla, organized by local granite contractor Osdany Veloz, is a high-profile example: if at least 100 boaters gather at Miami's Government Cut on Monday, Veloz and his crew will head out into international waters off Cuba to show support for Cuban demonstrators. 

The U.S. Coast Guard will be monitoring the flotilla and deploying extra resources to ensure its safety, according to Rear Adm. Brenden McPherson - but it is encouraging the boaters to stay home. The Florida Straits have strong currents, and small craft can get into trouble, according to the Coast Guard. 

"The Coast Guard has a plan to provide additional resources - people in our marinas, also ships on the water and aircraft in the air. The purpose is to monitor the situation, be there in case something happens, but more importantly, to discourage people from taking a dangerous voyage," he told local CBS 4.

The organizers say that they will only go if their group is large enough for safety, and they will have air support monitoring their movements. "We have people that have helicopters and airplanes that are also going to be [out in support]," said Veloz in an Instagram post. "We want the news media to be out there recording everything live. We're going to be heard." 

The team does not plan to enter Cuban territorial seas, according to the organizers; it intends to stay in international waters, outside of the 12 nm line. "The purpose is just to stay on the border, no trespassing, just stay [in] international waters and just let the Cuban people know that we're also fighting for their freedom," Cuban-born Miami resident Jorge Lopez told CBS 4. 

Multiple small-scale efforts by individuals and groups have been reported over the past week, including attempts by some boaters to reach Cuba and join the protest movement. The Coast Guard has warned that it is watching for "unpermitted vessel departures from Florida to Cuba," and it is on the lookout for attempts at facilitating northbound migration. 

Top image: Mike McBey / CC BY 2.0