Florida allows Cuba protesters to shut down highway despite making it felony for Black Lives Matter
Category: News & PoliticsVia: hallux • 2 weeks ago • 59 comments
As anti-government protests in Cuba receive harsh reprisals from the authoritarian government, with many demonstrators arrested or missing, supportive protests have cropped up in Florida – and they have been given unusual leeway.
After last summer’s massive Black Lives Matter protests filled major cities across the US, Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, signed a so-called “ anti-riot bill ” that cracked down heavily on various forms of protest, among them any protest that “willfully obstruct[s] the free, convenient, and normal use of a public street, highway or road”.
This is exactly what some Cuban solidarity protesters in the Miami area have been doing in recent days. The city’s Palmetto Expressway was brought to a standstill in both directions as a crowd of Cuban Americans and other supporters marched on the road to stand up for the rights of their counterparts in Havana, Santiago and elsewhere as they are beaten and detained by security forces.
As pointed out by the Miami Herald , the protest on the expressway technically put the protesters on the wrong side of the law. Under restrictive legislation signed by Mr DeSantis earlier this year, anyone who “endangers the safe movement of a vehicle traveling on a public street, highway, or road” risks a charge of “aggravated rioting”, an offence with a maximum sentence of 15 years’ jail time. And yet, it seems no arrests were made.
When it was passed, the law was denounced by many Democrats as a racist response to the scale and intensity of the protests following the murder of George Floyd – and that it appears to not be enforced now has not escaped scrutiny.
As the Cuban solidarity events unfolded, Mr DeSantis, who has developed a national profile as one of the Republican Party’s most popular conservatives, told the Herald that there is no equivalence between the protests underway in Cuba and those that unfolded in the US last summer, some of which saw widespread looting and damage to property.
“What is going on in Cuba in particular,” he said, “those are not simply normal, run-of-the-mill protests like we see here in the United States...they are trying to end the regime.
“So that is fundamentally different from what we saw last summer where people were burning down buildings – and this was fortunately not happening in Florida to a large extent – burning down buildings, looting, breaking windows and targeting law enforcement and all those things.”
This does not address why the law he signed is being selectively enforced. But Mr DeSantis’ declining to condemn the highway protests says something about the delicate balance of his state’s electorate – and his own stake in it.
The Cuban American vote has long been a crucial determining factor in statewide and presidential elections in Florida – most famously in 2000, when the case of Cuban child refugee Elián Gonzalez became a red-hot campaign issue and forced Al Gore into a failed act of political triangulation. GOP Senator Marco Rubio, himself a Cuban American whose parents immigrated to the US before Fidel Castro took power, also remains popular; during the current political crisis on the nearby island, he has been furiously tweeting and speaking out about the Cuban government’s authoritarian excesses, criticising the Biden administration for its supposedly weak response to the crackdown on peaceful protesters.
In 2020, Joe Biden failed to garner enough votes from the community to mitigate his losses elsewhere in the Sunshine State, which he lost to Donald Trump by a wide margin – this after Barack Obama won the state twice and Hillary Clinton lost it only very narrowly, even then defeating Donald Trump handily in the populous Miami-Dade County.
The Republican brand, conversely, has held up strongly in the area. Donald Trump took a hard line against the Cuban government, reversing much of the Obama administration’s plans to defrost the two countries’ relations. He won Florida in 2020 with a higher share of the vote than four years previously.
And then there’s Mr DeSantis, who is widely thought to be considering a presidential run in 2024, and the most likely heir apparent to Trumpism if the former president chooses not to run himself. In some speculative early polls, he performs as well or better than any other top Republican – provided Donald Trump is taken out of the field. As Florida’s sitting governor, Mr DeSantis would have a better chance than most of carrying the state in a future election, but no-one can take Florida for granted.
The current crisis, then, offers him a way to cater to a vital local constituency. And that he is allowing Cuban solidarity protesters to risk falling foul of a law brought in to curb a different movement, one whose members overwhelmingly would not vote for him, is unlikely to be much of a political problem.