(The Center Square) – Demonstrations in support of Cubans protesting against the island nation’s 62-year-old communist regime are boiling onto Florida streets with lawmakers from both parties out-doing each other in lauding the revolt.
Most notably, during a Tuesday roundtable with Cuban exiles in Miami, Gov. Ron DeSantis called on Florida internet providers to "see what are the options" are in beaming broadcasts into Cuba via satellite.
The Cuban government has blocked internet access, claiming what is evolving into the largest anti-communist protests there in decades is being stoked by American media.
“They don’t want the truth to be out, they don’t want people to be able to communicate,” DeSantis said. “And so, one of the things I think we should be able to do with our private companies, or with the United States, is to provide some of that internet via satellite. We have companies on the Space Coast that launch these things.”
The protests in Cuba began Sunday. By Monday, demonstrations were being staged across Florida with Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s crowds larger than the day before – and inadvertently running smack into the state’s new anti-riot law.
When Florida lawmakers adopted House Bill 1, the 61-page Combating Public Disorder Act, their guiding reference was last summer’s police brutality protests.
Few likely envisioned HB 1’s first test – and first arrests under the law, which is being challenged in court – would be spurred by anti-communism protests largely initiated by conservative Cuban-Americans.
Demonstrators blocked Palmetto Expressway in Miami Tuesday afternoon. The Florida Highway Patrol shut down the highway and rerouted traffic as protesters stayed on the roadway for at least four hours, but opted to make no arrests because the protest was otherwise peaceful.
But when demonstrators were prevented from blocking I-275 in Tampa, a scuffle ensued resulting in arrests of three protestors, including two who may be the first charged under the new law.
Julian Rodriguez-Rodriguez, 30, and Maikel Vasquez-Pico, 39, were arrested by Tampa police on charges of battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting law enforcement and under HB 1’s “unlawful assembly” provision.
State Rep. Omari Hardy, D-Lake Worth, noted on Twitter that protests in Cuba would be “labeled an ‘aggravated riot’ under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ anti-protest law.”
“I’m very happy that everyday Cubans feel empowered enough to protest the injustices in their country,” Hardy tweeted. “But when Black Americans protest injustice using the very same methods, we are deemed rioters, subversives, traitors, un-American.”
DeSantis and his office noted HB 1 allows discretion for officers on the scene and is meant for “violent” demonstrations.
“HB 1 is specifically an anti-RIOT bill, and it differentiates between riots and peaceful protests,” DeSantis’ spokeswoman Christina Pushaw tweeted, adding, “The Left and aligned corporate media love authoritarianism. Therefore, they are FURIOUS that the Governor of Florida didn’t personally drive 500 miles down the state to arrest people for protesting (not rioting) against the communist regime in Cuba.”
DeSantis said what is going on in Cuba and on Florida’s streets is different from last summer’s protests.
“What is going on in Cuba in particular, those are not simply normal, run-of-the-mill protests like we see here in the United States. They don’t have freedoms respected there, whereas in the United States, you have a panoply of freedoms that are respected,” he said.
“They are seeking an end to the regime itself,” DeSantis continued. “So that is fundamentally different from what we saw last summer where people were burning down buildings – and this was fortunately not happening in Florida to a large extent – burning down buildings, looting, breaking windows and targeting law enforcement and all those things.”