In Tampa, Cubans plan protest on Saturday. Here’s why.

YouTube influencer Eliécer Ávila and Casa Cuba, Somos+ plan to lead march to City Hall.
Cubans are planning to protest in Tampa on Saturday, April 1, 2023, to denounce what they call “communist penetration attempts.” Pictured here are members and supporters of the local Cuban community on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021 in Ybor City.
Cubans are planning to protest in Tampa on Saturday, April 1, 2023, to denounce what they call “communist penetration attempts.” Pictured here are members and supporters of the local Cuban community on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021 in Ybor City. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published March 31|Updated March 31

TAMPA — Dozens of Cubans are planning to protest Saturday to denounce the Cuban regime and reject what they call “communist penetration attempts in Tampa.”

Led by YouTube influencer Eliécer Ávila and local organizations such as Casa Cuba and Somos+, the dissidents will gather at 11 a.m. at Lykes Gaslight Park, 241 E Madison St., and march the few blocks to City Hall. The protest is in response to a visit earlier this month by the Cuban ambassador to Tampa.

Ávila, who lives in Miami and will be in Tampa for the rally, has been spreading the word on social media. He said it’s important to let people know that the local exiles and the community oppose any contact with members of the Cuban dictatorship. Many still remember what it was like to live under the Castro regime and the difficulties they faced to escape oppression.

“This demonstration is our response to a request made by the Cubans themselves and the residents of Tampa, who have also felt offended by the lies broadcast on Cuban television after the visit of their ambassador to Tampa,” Ávila said.

Earlier in March, Cuban Ambassador Lianys Torres Rivera met with local business officials and politicians. The ambassador and her guests were at a local restaurant with Karen Pérez, a Hillsborough County School Board member; Cindy Stuart, the Hillsborough Clerk of Court and Comptroller; St. Petersburg’s former Mayor Rick Kriseman; and Guido Maniscalco, the Tampa City Council member who represents West Tampa.

The meeting was sabotaged by a group of Cuban exiles who came to the restaurant and recorded the episode with their cellphones. The activists shouted and chanted slogans against Torres and her guests.

Earlier that day, Torres met with a group of reporters and editors at the Tampa Bay Times and Centro Tampa, a weekly Spanish–language tabloid owned by the Times Publishing Company.

Ávila also said the protest will be a direct response to Vicente Amor, a Tampa businessperson. Amor was interviewed by “Con Filo,” one of the most popular television programs on the island. He called Torres’ visit “fantastic” and said that the city of Tampa was excited about her presence.

Sen. Jay Collins held a news conference Monday in Tallahassee to criticize the ambassador’s visit and to announce that he’s sponsoring a resolution condemning the Cuban regime and the elected officials who met with Torres.

“Let me be crystal clear on this. We here in the Free State of Florida have nothing to gain from meeting with the leadership of Cuba’s totalitarian regime,” Collins said in an email to the Times. “I will not forget the Cuban exiles in our state, and I will continue to fight against communism in all forms.”

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Maniscalco has said he left the restaurant before the meeting started when he realized Torres was present. Others, like Pérez, said they attended the dinner as an educational endeavor.

Stuart, the Clerk of Court, said her office sees Collins’ news conference and his resolution as an issue between political parties “which naturally excludes our office since the clerk’s role is ministerial,” she said.

Stuart expressed her concerns about the implications of expanding the controversy.

“We are paying attention because the discussion has the potential to affect our diverse community,” she told the Times. “But directing policy on this matter is not our job.”

Some Cuban exiles who are planning to protest said they want to make their voices heard. One of them is Danet Rodríguez, of Brandon.

“Protesting is exercising our rights as a united community to hold our elected members in that meeting accountable,” said Rodríguez, 31. “This visit was an offense not only to the Cubans, but to the American people.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the title of Vicente Amor.