14ymedio, Havana, 24 July 2021 – A strong police-military operation prevented hundred of Cubans from trying to approach the Malecón in Havana last Friday, where they tried to watch, from the seawall, the fireworks from the flotilla that a group of Cubans from Miami displayed from the ocean. The flotilla was an initiative to support people on the island, following the protests that started July 11th. The regime’s forces started cordoning off the Malecón early in the afternoon, and they patrolled an extensive area along the neighborhoods of Centro Habana, El Vedado and Habana Vieja.
The flotilla included five vessels and left in the early morning hours of Friday, heading to the international marine limits between the United States and Cuba. The boats left the bridge from Key Biscayne after 8 am, headed to Key West, where the US Coat Guard inspected them, and sailed another 15 miles towards the international limits with the Cuban shorelines.
In response to the police operation along the Malecón, residents from the shoreline neighborhoods climbed to the rooftops of their multifamily buildings to be able to watch the flotilla of Cuban exiles approaching the horizon and their fireworks display. Despite the strong police presence on the streets, Cubans sought refuge on the rooftops, where it became harder for the police to identify who was watching the fireworks or not.
According to several Havana residents, the day was cloudy and overcast since the morning, with a heavy fog that blocked the view of the horizon. Even during the night, while the fireworks were going off, they could see the light flashes but they needed to be really close to the coastline to see better.
The 14ymedio newsroom received reports that on the shoreline of the eastern side of Havana, in the Alamar neighborhood, several people where able to get close to the shores and were able to watch, video and photograph the fireworks.
Not only the Malecón was heavily patrolled by police, though. In the coastal neighborhood of Santa Fe, in Playa, the situation was the same. “There were patrol cars, police officers and military all over the coastline. If you would try to get closer, they’d tell you could not be there due to Covid-19 restrictions. Nobody believed that excuse, I walked around that area every single day without any problem,” said a resident from the area.
Meanwhile in Miami, the flotilla was considered a noble gesture to support the Cuban people who has been protesting on the streets since July 11th, and also, as some sort of generational relay from the Cuban exile community.
Ramón Saúl Sánchez, a known leader in the exile community and one of the flotilla organizers, went out Friday to say good-bye and provide advice to those on the vessels heading to international waters. He told EFE News Agency that, in a certain way, it meant they were passing the torch to a new generation of activists.
Sánchez, who is also the president of the Movimiento Democracia, initially advised against the idea due to lack of timely planning, but later supported the flotilla and said he was relieved to see there were a few boats and that the vessels were big enough, which, he said, “reduces the changes of problems with the wind and waves.”
The activists, who in 23 years has organized around 27 flotillas to the island to condemn the dictatorship, and has had vessels confiscated and been tried for entering Cuban territorial waters, was expecting the Cuban regime would try to prevent people on the island from approaching the Malecón to watch the fireworks display, organized by Cuban American Osdany Veloz.
For Sánchez, the flotillas represent “some sort of spiritual bridge between the two parts of the Cuban people that are divided by the dictatorship.”
The vessels departed the United States waving Cuban and American flags. Veloz told the press gathered that they were bringing a message of freedom and support to people on the island, “so they can keep fighting” for a free Cuba.
The US Coast Guard already issued several warnings, through the local media, that the vessels did not have any authorization to cross into Cuba’s territorial waters and reminded the flotilla that doing so would be illegal.
Cuba’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, Bruno Rodríguez, asked the US government to get “serious” about the flotilla and considered the recently announced sanctions of the Biden administration against the Cuban military to be “irrelevant.”
On Friday, Sánchez also reminded the group that their previous flotillas would sail up to 12.5 nautical miles from Cuba’s shorelines, which he said makes the perfect distance for the “lights of liberty” to be seen.
On Veloz’s Instagram account, several comments of support were gathered, some of them from users in Cuba.
Once their demonstration concluded, the flotilla sailed back to the United States without any incident.
Translated by: Mailyn Salabarria
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