An armada of at least 100 small boats is being planned to set sail from Florida to 12 miles off the coast of Cuba in a show of support following the unprecedented freedom demonstrations on the Communist-controlled island.
Organizers began recruiting in Miami on Tuesday night for the makeshift flotilla, which they hope will make the perilous journey across the Straits of Florida on Monday next week.
They plan to have at least half the vessels setting off from Key West, just 105 miles from Cuban capital Havana where thousands took the streets on Sunday to protest human rights abuses, food shortages and soaring inflation.
The other boats would start from Miami in a potentially dangerous trip of least 200 miles to Cuba’s nearest coastline in craft averaging about 30ft long.
All will be crewed by members of Florida’s expat Cuban community. Nearly all have immediate family on the Caribbean island and will be heartbreakingly close to their loved ones – without being able to see them.
An armada of 100 small boats full of Cuban expats will set sail Monday from Key West and Miami to 12miles outside of Cuba to show their support for the freedom movement on the island
Coordinator Osdany Veloz, who runs a construction company in Miami, met US Coast Guard officials in Miami Friday to iron out any possible objections to the planned flotilla – and possible red tape that could delay it
Osdany, seen waving a Cuban flag, told DailyMail.com: ‘We are trying to show a peaceful protest against this regime. To show the people that we are with them, that we want to help them, that we have seen what is happening with the protests and we support the movement’
The boat skippers do not plan to move into Cuban waters nor will they try to drop off badly needed supplies of medicines and food for the struggling population.
Instead they will form up and stay together for up to two days – being visible from the coast in the hope they can be seen by Cubans and encourage them in their fight for freedom.
A small number of other boats not connected to the flotilla plan have already set off from Miami, specifically with the intention of landing in Cuba and bringing supplies of water, food and medicine.
But it is unclear where those vessels have ended up – or if any have actually made it across the Straits of Florida.
At least 100 people packed into Miami Outboard Club on Tuesday night to hear coordinator Osdany Veloz, 24, outline plans for the hastily-organized flotilla.
He told DailyMail.com: ‘We are trying to show a peaceful protest against this regime. To show the people that we are with them, that we want to help them, that we have seen what is happening with the protests and we support the movement.’
Osdany, who was born in Cuba and came to the United States aged three, added: ‘We are going to stay together outside their territorial waters as show of support, to show that we are there for the Cuban people – that we are also fighting like they are…and they are not alone.’
He insisted there was no plan to breach Cuban waters and try to land supplies. But he added: ‘If the Cuban authorities open up and let us through, then we will definitely go in and hand over anything useful that we have on board.’
The US Coast Guard has issued a warning against small craft attempting to reach Cuba from Florida. It said it is monitoring any ‘illegal and unsafe crossings’.
At least 100 people packed into Miami Outboard Club on Tuesday night to hear coordinator Osdany, 24, outline plans for the hastily-organized flotilla
Osdany continued: ‘We realize the danger. But we are trying to follow the rules and guidelines and make it safe for everyone.
‘Everyone who is going has families here, most have families there in Cuba. They don’t want to risk anything. We want to get it done the right way.’
He said he still had family on the island. But in a sign of the fear the communist regime puts into its own citizens, he said he did not want to name any of them.
‘I don’t want to mention who my family are there because we are scared of what the government might do,’ Osdany said.
‘On a more positive note, people here in Miami are so excited about what is happening in Cuba right now.’
Osdany, who runs a construction company in Miami, met US Coast Guard officials in Miami Friday to iron out any possible objections to the planned flotilla – and possible red tape that could delay it.
Before the meeting he said: ‘A lot of people want to go. Let’s get the plan rolling.
‘It’s 12 miles to the coast, that’s 14 nautical miles. Either way we are no planning to get that close. It depends what the Coast Guard informs us now.
‘It’s not a supply run. I wish it was, but unfortunately it’s not.’
Osdany recorded his initial consultation with a public affairs officer at the US Coast Guard base on an Instagram live feed.
The officer appeared to be positive to the plan, despite the Coast Guard’s previous warnings about not attempting similar journeys but a handful of boats earlier in the week.
He was not shown, but could be heard saying: ‘I can help and guide you guys to what you’ve got to do next. We have seen some of the things you guys are talking about and what you’re trying to organize.’
He added: ‘Sector Miami, the captain of the port, she is the one that decides what is safe for this port. She has the total authority for what happens in this port.
‘So like the organization of a big flotilla, if what you wanted to do impacted the port then it might mean you request a permit. But based on what you’re telling me, if you are just trying to organize and go out I don’t think you need one.’
US Coast Guard Rear Admiral Eric Jones issued his warning after groups of Cubans in Miami started loading up a small number of craft with supplies at Pelican Harbor Marina on Monday evening – but with little other preparation for the potentially lethal voyage.
One group leader, Santiago Rivero, rallied people to join him via Instagram. In a sign of the chaotic nature of the well-intentioned plan, people arrived with water, food for the trip and supplies for Cubans. The only thing missing was a boat.
Others did set off that night and a few were reported to have sailed in the early morning.
However there were reports of at least one boat being intercepted by Homeland Security only a few miles into the planned trip.
Storms throughout Tuesday meant further vessel launches from the marina that day never materialized.
Cuban expat Alejandro Morua, 32, was waiting by the boat ramp with his gear in the hope of getting a ride to Cuba. He went home disappointed as no one else turned up
Alejandro told DailyMail.com: ‘Now I want to go back to defend my country. Now I see my brothers and my family. It is not the time to leave Cuba abandoned. We need to go there, we need to fight the Communists’
Cuban expat Alejandro Morua, 32, was waiting by the boat ramp with his gear in the hope of getting a ride to Cuba. He went home disappointed as no one else turned up.
Alejandro, who works in music management, came to the United States in 2008 after surviving a three-day boat trip from Havana to Cancun, Mexico and then 12 days walking to the US-Texas border where he claimed asylum.
He told DailyMail.com: ‘Now I want to go back to defend my country. Now I see my brothers and my family. It is not the time to leave Cuba abandoned. We need to go there, we need to fight the Communists.
‘We need to send a message to the government of the United States that we need intervention, military intervention. We want to see American boots on the ground.’
‘I am going. I don’t have a boat, but I will find a way.
‘It’s dangerous. But to me it’s more dangerous to stay home. I can’t stay home and see on the news all that is happening to my brothers, to my family right there in Cuba.
‘I would prefer to go right there and kill myself.’
City of Miami mayor Francis Suarez said the U.S. should explore air strikes against Cuba. He told Fox News: ‘What should be contemplated now is a coalition of potential military action in Cuba’
Alejandro claimed he was in contact with people on boats who had made the journey to the edge of Cuban waters. He also claimed Cuban military planes were buzzing the boats. But there was no confirmation that any vessels had made it through.
After waiting hours in which no boats turned up at the marina, he headed home.
Meanwhile, hundreds of expat Cubans demonstrating in support of the Cuban uprising shutdown the major Palmetto Expressway in Miami during peak time traffic yesterday, causing hours of chaos and hold-ups.
They struck as City of Miami mayor Francis Suarez said the U.S. should explore air strikes against Cuba. He told Fox News: ‘What should be contemplated now is a coalition of potential military action in Cuba.’
Asked if he was suggesting air strikes, he replied: ‘What I am suggesting is that option is one that has to be explored, and one that cannot be simply just discarded.’
Suarez, whose father was Miami’s first Cuban-born mayor, told the Miami Herald he planned to ask President Joe Biden to consider military intervention in a promised phone call after reaching out to the White House.
Anti-government activists in Cuba say more than 100 people have been arrested or are missing following Sunday’s astonishing protests and more dissent on the streets the following day.
One person died in clashes on Monday as president Miguel Diaz-Canel began to ruthlessly crackdown on the wave of demonstrations with riot police and snatch squads.
Terrifying video of arrests and police opening fire on demonstrators have been shared on social media. But the communist regime has been shutting off the internet to prevent any more being circulated.
Thousands of Cubans took to the streets from Havana to Santiago on Sunday chanting ‘down with the dictatorship’ in the biggest anti-government demonstrations on the Communist-run island in decades
A man is seen being arrested during a demonstration against the government of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana on Sunday
The move is also designed to stop demonstrators – who came out in force in 30 cities on Sunday – coordinating further actions through facebook and Instagram.
However, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Tuesday proposed companies in the state providing internet connections for Cubans.
‘What does the regime do when you start to see these images? They shut down the internet,’ he said at a meeting of Cuban exiles and Republican lawmakers in Miami. ‘They don’t want the truth to be out, they don’t want people to be able to communicate.’
‘And so one of the things I think we should be able to do with our private companies… is to provide some of that internet via satellite. We have companies on the Space Coast that launch these things.’ However he did not expand on exactly how to get Cubans an internet connection.
The US Coast Guard station in Key West also warned earlier this week against trying to sail small craft to Cuba.
‘The message is do no take to sea,’ said Key West Coast Guard Deputy Commander Richard Armstrong.
‘The Florida Straits can be extremely unforgiving, especially during hurricane season. It is extremely dangerous to take to the seas. The weather can change extremely quickly and you can find yourself in a very bad situation very fast.’