Cuban exiles rally at Versailles Restaurant in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood in support of protesters in Cuba, Monday, July 12, 2021, in Miami. Sunday's protests in Cuba marked some of the biggest displays of antigovernment sentiment in the tightly controlled country in years. Cuba is going through its worst economic crisis in decades, along with a resurgence of coronavirus cases, as it suffers the consequences of U.S. sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump's administration. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Cubans in Miami talk of boating to island to back protests

MIAMI (AP) — The United States Coast Guard in Miami is monitoring any activity aimed at increasing “unsafe and illegal” crossings between Florida and Cuba in response to rare street protests on the island.

Rear Adm. Eric C. Jones issued a warning statement Monday night as groups of Cuban immigrants said they planned to travel in boats filled with supplies to Cuba to show support for the Cuban protesters. South Florida has the country’s largest population of Cuban Americans.

In Miami, Cuban social media personalities posted Monday that they would make the 10-hour boat ride to Cuba to show support after rare street protests broke out over the weekend, the Miami Herald reported.

The influencers said they would bring aid — and guns — and urged people in Miami to offer up their boats.

One group gathered Monday night at Pelican Harbor Marina near Miami’s North Bay Village, and people brought cases of bottled water, flashlights and boxes of canned Chef Boyardee pasta, the newspaper reported.

“Water, food, medicine, whatever we can take to Cuba. Whatever we can take to help is good,” organizer Dennis Suayero told WSVN.

The group didn’t get very far on a rainy Monday night.

A message posted on organizer Santiago Rivera’s Instagram account early Tuesday said the Coast Guard stopped his group from crossing the Straits because of “problems with firearms.” He promised they would try again to leave Wednesday morning “with the permission of the authorities of this country.”

The Coast Guard statement suggested that such permission would not be forthcoming. It noted that the voyage is “dangerous and unforgiving,” with nearly 20 Cubans dying while trying to cross in recent weeks. It said the Coast Guard is working with state, local and federal partners to monitor “unpermitted vessel departures from Florida to Cuba.”

Rivera’s post thanked people supporting the mission and said Cubans are determining their destiny and losing their fear. “This isn’t politics, this is brotherhood, this is humanity and common sense, proud to be cuban for my land I give my life,” his post said.

Thousands of Cuban Americans also gathered in Little Havana over the weekend, expressing support for the Cubans who joined street marches against high prices and food shortages on the island. Such unsanctioned protests are extremely rare, and Cuban police were out in force on Monday to control them.

The last such demonstrations in Havana happened nearly 30 years ago, in 1994. President Miguel Díaz-Canel accusing Cuban Americans of using social media to egg them on.