Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is facing accusations of being a hypocrite since he showed support for Cuban protesters and demonstrators in Florida after signing a bill following George Floyd protests that increases punishments riot-related incidents.
In the largest protests on the island in decades, 100 Cubans have been arrested or are missing amid the demonstrations. Citizens upset over the lack of food and medicine amid the spread of COVID-19 and an ongoing economic crisis only aggravated by the pandemic have staged anti-government protests. In San Antonio de los Banos, a city west of Havana, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets following a week of electricity cuts in the July heat.
So far, at least one person has died during the demonstrations, as 240,000 are currently in need of treatment for the virus. President Miguel Díaz-Canel called on the Army to confront the demonstrators, saying, The order to fight has been given.” Díaz-Canel also blamed Cuba’s economic problems on U.S. trade sanctions.
A demonstration of solidarity in Florida spilled out onto a ramp and temporarily blocked a portion of I-95 in Jacksonville this week, and thousands of people took to the streets to demand human rights for the people of Cuba. According to Black-led organizations in Jacksonville, there has been a stark difference in the way law enforcement has responded to demonstrators protesting for Cuban citizens, compared to the way Black Lives Matter protesters were handled.
“I’m glad they weren’t treated corruptly like us. I never wish harm on anyone and especially people who’re going through similar things as Black people,” Bria Core, a member of Shift Jax, told the Times-Union. “I am not in shock at all though, we as Black people are automatically looked upon as a threat so of course we would have more force and unfair treatment than others.” On May 30 and 31 in 2020, 66 people were arrested in Jacksonville following George Floyd’s death. But people attending the recent protests in Florida said police just seemed to be there to keep people safe.
On Tuesday at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora in Miami, DeSantis expressed his support for Cuban demonstrators, saying his office is “siding with the Cuban people.”
He continued, “When you see some of these other Marxist regimes that has the Cuban dictatorship’s fingerprints on it every single time, it’s been very hostile to American interest consistently for over 60 years every step of the way.” According to DeSantis, the protests in Cuba aren’t just about a COVID-19 and a shortage of medicine and vaccines, but stem from years of bubbling unrest.
“If you go into it thinking that they’re upset about a vaccine shortage, or they’re upset that there’s not enough groceries in the store, but they just want the regime to change a few things around and rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, if that’s what you think then you clearly have no hope of getting a favorable outcome here,” DeSantis said.
But DeSantis was characterized as hypocritical by some, who cited his support of House Bill 1, which creates a new crime of “mob intimidation,” enhances riot-related penalties and makes it harder for local officials to reduce spending on law enforcement. DeSantis signed the bill in April after it was proposed in the wake of the protests that followed the death of George Floyd. The bill also makes it a felony to tear down statues or monuments.
“This bill actually prevents against local government defunding law enforcement. We’ll be able to stop it at the state level,” DeSantis said in April. “It’s an insane theory. It’s not going to be allowed to ever carry the day in the state of Florida.”
Weeks of protests in Florida last summer prompted DeSantis to activate the Florida National Guard, deploying 700 troops and mobilizing 1,300 Florida Highway Patrol troopers to aid in policing.
So far, two Florida men have been arrested during the protests and are being held on charges related to the anti-riot law. Julian Rodriguez-Rodriguez, 30, Maikel Vazquez-Pico, 39 were a part of a group trying to take over Interstate 275 and Dale Mabry Highway, and are being held without bond at the Hillsborough County Jail.
Beneath DeSantis’ supportive message regarding Cuban protesters, Rep. Anna V. Eskamani wrote, “Says the Governor who pushed through House Bill 1, a bill motivated as a means to silence racial justice protests.”
Another user criticized DeSantis, writing that he “literally signed a bill into law that criminalizes protests in Florida and offers immunity to drivers who run over protestors at demonstrations.”
Scott Maxwell, a journalist for the Orlando Sentinel also tweeted a scathing remark on DeSantis. “Just think about it, you’re driving home from work, and all of a sudden, you have people out there shutting down a highway … there needs to be swift penalties.” Ron DeSantis on previous protests. The ones he didn’t like.
The city of Miami was set to hold a mini-concert in support of Cuban protesters in Little Havana on Wednesday.