Fort Myers Walks For Freedom in Solidarity with Cuba
Thousands of Southwest Floridians took to the streets Tuesday night from Sarasota to Cape Coral, chanting "libertad" or "liberate" in support of a series of protests against the Cuban government that began on the island July 11, and that have led to hundreds of arrests of Cuban citizens.
Draped in Cuban flags, proudly holding signs with ‘#SOS CUBA!’ and ‘Patria y Vida' overhead, local demonstrators cried out for their families, friends, and those still residing in Cuba, demanding Cuban freedom and calling for the end to the dictatorship of the Communist regime. Ongoing violent protests in Cuba have resulted in mass injuries, arrests, and property damage.
The Fort Myers Walk of Freedom was overall peaceful, according to Fort Myers Police Department Public Information Officer Kristin Capuzzi.
“The crowd did become extremely large, but generally it was all peaceful.”
Capuzzi explains the FMPD has been monitoring several demonstrations taking place in the city since Monday, July 12.
Groups gathered Tuesday evening at the Luminary Hotel in Downtown Fort Myers, the Edison Mall, and a Wal-Mart Supercenter near Colonial Blvd.
Mario Chaoui marched alongside 1,000 others as the sun set in downtown Fort Myers Tuesday. Born in Cuba, Mario arrived in the United States 20 years ago, after defecting from a Cuban University Baseball Team when he was 21-years-old.
He showed up for the Fort Myers Freedom Walk to make sure the country of Cuba knows that there is support for them across the United States.
“I have to support my sisters and brothers in Cuba. That’s the only way that we, and I as a Cuban, have to show them that there is still hope for freedom.”
Chaoui said that his cousin is currently imprisoned in Cuba for participating in a protest there and worries about his safety.
What surprised Chaoui most about the Fort Myers Walk of Freedom was the Cuban-American youth that showed up.
“These kids didn’t experience anything that is happening in Cuba right now, these kids that have everything they want, said Chaoui. “They are still fighting and showing up for everything happening in Cuba. It’s not just us. It’s our kids, our grandkids that are there for those in Cuba as well.”
Capuzzi said that the FMPD is supportive of the demonstrations, but urges protesters to steer clear of blocking roadways.
“We are just going to try to put out some type of messaging today that has to make people aware that roadway obstructions and stuff are just something that’s unacceptable,” said Capuzzi.
As groups plan more demonstrations in support of Cuba, FMPD said they will continue to monitor and plan for appropriate response. FMPD reports that there was no property damage or arrests made in the downtown Fort Myers area Tuesday night. Merely a few agitators were warned by FMPD.
“A lot of people say they’ll continue to do this type of thing until they see a change in their country,” Capuzzi said.
But what do local demonstrators hope will happen as a result of protesting for Cuban freedom? Chaoui wants to see local action and support of the Southwest Florida Cuban community. As for his hopes for Cuba, he explains that it comes down to having basic human rights.
“They need that sentiment,” said Chaoui. “They need freedom. That’s what I want to see my country, my people, my brothers and sisters, everyone that is fighting, to end with freedom, to end with a new governmental structure and start building from scratch and have a normal life; Have a life that they deserve since they were born.”
Chaoui expressed that he will not stop taking action until Cuba is free.
"It’s not about food,” said Chaoui. “It’s not about medicine. It’s not about all the things that people are saying. I heard that some people are saying that they are fighting because they want more vaccines. That’s ridiculous. That’s not what it is. It’s all of the above, but more importantly, about freedom and about making sure people, our kids, are not getting killed anymore on the streets in Cuba.”