Hundreds of people waving Cuban and American flags, many wearing paint-stained white T-shirts bearing the words “SOS Cuba,” marched around downtown Orlando and rallied at Lake Eola Park on Saturday, with chants calling for U.S. military intervention reverberating through the crowd.
Saturday marked the sixth day of protests in Orlando and throughout Florida as local Cuban communities march in solidarity with people on the island as anti-government protests continue.
In Orlando, some protesters held signs demanding military intervention, which have been echoed by some South Florida lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“What they are showing you on the TV by the government is a lie. What we are doing here is the truth,” shouted one man into a microphone, behind him a sketch of the Cuban flag with the names of what supporters said are political prisons. “We want intervention!”
Arturo Campa, a 77-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran who fled the island in 1959 shortly after the success of the Cuban revolution, echoed that demand, saying he’d go himself if he were younger.
“The United States owes us,” said Campa, referring to the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. “They have to go in there because Cubans don’t have a way to defend themselves [from the government].”
Cubans on the island have demanded an end to the dictatorship, which they blame for a current economic crisis and a medicine shortage amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a U.S.-imposed blockade spanning decades.
Local supporters said the protests are a call for freedom, as videos coming out of Cuba show security forces, led by President Miguel Díaz-Canel, cracking down on rallies springing up throughout the country while enlisting pro-government supporters to take to the streets.
While this was the first protest in downtown Orlando, there’s been several others throughout the week at Sedano’s on Semoran Boulevard near Curry Ford Road. The biggest was on Tuesday when there were about 500 people. Protesters shut down Semoran for about an hour and one man was arrested by Orlando police after he refused to get back onto the sidewalk.
Many chanted what’s been the rallying cry all week at the Central Florida protest: “Si Cuba está en la calle, nosotros también,” Spanish for, “If Cuba is in the streets, we will be too.”
But many in the crowd who attended Saturday’s march, like Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando), stopped short of calling for intervention. Eskamani, who sympathizes with calls to end Cuba’s authoritarian government, warned that doing so could end in disaster.
“I know the gut reaction for so many individuals who are scared and mad is military intervention,” she said. “But we have to be very careful when we use those type of points because of the potential of disastrous consequences and more innocent people dying. We don’t more innocent people suffering that have already suffered so much.”
Brittny Valdes, a first-generation Cuban-American who also marched on Saturday, agreed, calling the current crisis there “hard to neatly put into a box.”
“Do we want boots on the ground to conquer, to imperialize and take over the country? No we do not,” she said.
Staff writer David Harris contributed to this report.