Miami, Jul 23 (EFE).- A small flotilla of just four motorboats set off on Friday from Miami en route to international waters off Cuba, a move aimed at showing support for recent anti-government protests on the Caribbean island.
It is unclear whether other boats will join the flotilla prior to or after its arrival in Key West, where the group will stop to refuel and the watercraft will be inspected by the United States Coast Guard.
Many more journalists than boats gathered at Miami’s Bayside marina for Friday morning’s send-off.
One of the boaters who departed from Biscayne Bay was Alex Dennes, who told CBS Miami that the trip would be worth it because it would motivate the Cuban government to reduce its crackdown on protesters.
That Cuban immigrant, who arrived in the United States at the age of 13, said President Joe Biden’s administration has been slow to provide support to the protesters, adding that “this isn’t the time for politics, but for humanity.”
On Thursday, the Biden administration imposed new sanctions on Cuba, with the Treasury Department designating the leader of Cuba’s Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, Alvaro Lopez Miera, and the Cuban Interior Ministry’s National Special Brigade (a special forces unit known as the Boinas Negras) for “the repression of peaceful, pro-democratic protests in Cuba that began on July 11.”
Biden said Thursday’s actions were “just the beginning.”
Those actions mark a further deterioration in bilateral relations that had improved after then-President Barack Obama made a historic 2016 visit to Cuba but then soured under the hard-line approach of his successor, Donald Trump.
The US Department of Homeland Security reiterated on Thursday that a permit is needed to enter Cuba’s territorial waters and that violators would face up to 10 years in prison and fines of $25,000 a day and the confiscation of their vessel.
That department also warned that the punishment for those illegally bringing foreigners into the US is five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 a day.
Those warnings may have discouraged other boaters from taking part in the initiative.
The flotilla was initially scheduled to depart on Monday, but the group of young Miami-based Cuban-Americans who organized it decided to delay the event for a few days after meeting with Coast Guard representatives. The idea was to guarantee full compliance with US law and ensure the boaters’ safety.
After the stopover in Key West on Friday, the boaters will set off for a gathering point in international waters about 15 miles off Cuba’s coast, where they are to set off fireworks, flares and Chinese lanterns in a show of support for protesters on the island. They are scheduled to return to Miami on Saturday.
On Thursday, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez called on the US government to act with “seriousness” ahead of the departure of the flotilla to avoid incidents that “are in no one’s interests.”
He also termed the latest sanctions by Washington, which has imposed a decades-old embargo on the Communist-ruled island, “politically motivated” and “totally irrelevant from a practical standpoint.”
“The United States has no legal, political or moral authority to be going around sanctioning people around the world when it’s known to have quite reprehensible conduct in terms of repression, the use of its armed forces in third countries, so-called collateral victims and torture acknowledged by its own government,” Rodriguez added.
In a press conference, he said Cuban authorities have acted with “strict adherence to the law, with moderation and respect for citizens’ rights” during the demonstrations. EFE