TAMPA - Hundreds of Cuban protesters blocked the streets of Tampa for hours on Dale Mabry Highway to draw attention to the internal situation in Cuba.
The local protests were among other large demonstrations of the Cuban exile and representatives of organizations that fight for human rights and individual freedoms in Cuba. Protests took place across Florida, including in Miami and Jacksonville, in support of anti-government demonstrators.
This is the third public demonstration of Cuban exiles in Tampa since demonstrations in Cuba began over the weekend. They aim to raise awareness over the worsening economic and health conditions, lack of freedom and food shortages for those on the island.
Stick with tampabay.com for updates from Tuesday night’s protest.
11 p.m. Tampa police report three arrests
Three protestors were arrested Tuesday and one Florida Highway Patrol trooper was injured during the protests, according to Tampa police.
Julian Rodriguez-Rodriguez, 30, and Maikel Vazquez-Pico, 39, were arrested on charges of battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting law enforcement without violence, according to police.
Evelio Ramirez-Carrasco, 34, was arrested on a charge of resisting law enforcement without violence, police said.
According to a Florida Highway Patrol spokesman, an trooper suffered a broken ankle and cuts to his arms and face while assisting Tampa officers during an arrest. The trooper was taken to a local medical facility for treatment.
Police did not release additional details about the allegations against the protestors.
“The Tampa Police Department continues to support everyone’s 1st Amendment right for free speech,” Tampa police said in a statement. “We will continue to work with groups who want to have their voices heard in a safe and secure manner.”
10 p.m.: Rain doesn’t stop the chants
By 10 p.m. protestors still chanted and sang together in Tampa, despite a steady rain. Some held Cuban flags over their heads while they sang.
9 p.m.: Group disperses around Tampa
After making a lap around Raymond James Stadium, the group of hundreds of protesters splintered into smaller groups as police attempted to direct them toward Al Lopez Park. Interactions between police and protestors remained peaceful, even as officers attempted to keep them from circling back to Dale Mabry Highway.
Protesters chanted as they spread out across the streets, shouting in support of the people in Cuba. Some trucks filled with supporters blocked traffic as those on foot kept walking by.
They sang the famous tune, “Ya Viene Llegando,” by Willy Chirino, as they neared Columbus Avenue. “Our day is coming soon.”
8:30 p.m.: Crowd grows to hundreds, moved through Tampa streets
Police moved protesters away from Interstate 275 as daylight receded. The group of protesters grew to about 400. People walked down Dale Mabry Highway, past George M. Steinbrenner Field toward Al Lopez Park.
Some lanes on Dale Mabry reopened under police supervision, allowing traffic that stalled for hours to trickle by slowly.
Cousins Ania Perez and Natalie Olivere, both 22, said they were protesting for their family in Cuba who can’t do so without prosecution.
”They have no food, no wifi and no internet because of a communist regime,” Perez said. “Cuba was already a third-world country that COVID-19 made worse. We’re limited with what we can do here, but marching and raising awareness is one thing.”
Despite being a Tampa natives, Perez and Olivere said they have family throughout Cuba who are also protesting their country’s government.
While island-wide wifi blackouts have been used to break up communication among Cubans, Perez said she’s been able to stay in contact through an aunt who has a cell phone in Santa Clara.
”If it wasn’t for her, we would have no idea what is happening with our family,” Perez said. “But knowing our family there is fighting the regime, we will do the same here.”
7 p.m.: Protesters block Dale Mabry, police shut down section of I-275
Around 7 p.m. Tuesday, authorities shut down portions of Dale Mabry and a stretch of southbound Interstate 275 near Dale Mabry out of caution. Police remained on scene in the area where a group of nearly 200 protesters took to the streets and blocked traffic. Some motorists reported being stuck in traffic in the area for more than an hour.
Tamara Castanon, 43, said the situation in Cuba cannot go unnoticed by the international press.
”It’s time. The press has to report what is happening in Cuba because we have family. People and children are starving and there are no medicines,” she said. “There is no internet, there is nothing. Cubans cannot see what is happening in the world today.”
Pablo Sasal, 49, said that the Biden administration has a duty to act to alleviate the suffering of the Cuban people. Sassal came to the U.S. a decade ago.
”The only thing we are asking for is mercy for the people of Cuba,” he said. “Our local authorities have to carry the message to the President of the United States. We want the United States government to help us at this time in our lives.”
With signs in favor of democracy on the island and shouting “If Cuba is on the Street, Tampa too,” the protesters stayed in the street before police arrived.
Since Sunday’s protest, independent journalists in Cuba have reported on the arrest of at least 100, many of whom are unaccounted for, according to local reports and Movimiento San Isidro, an independent artistic movement in Cuba.
In Tampa, protesters and members of the Cuban exile community gathered Monday morning outside the local office of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor to express their support for the protests over the weekend in Cuba. The day before, up to 200 people waved Cuban flags in front of Jesuit High School on Himes Avenue, prompting police to shut down nearby roads.