After a Castro supporter showed up, chaos erupted at an anti-communism rally in Miami

Jimena Tavel, Al Diaz

During an anti-communism rally Saturday afternoon in Little Havana, Miami Police took five people into custody — including Cuban influencer and event organizer Alex Otaola — after chaos erupted when a known defender of the Castro regime showed up. Police released them a few hours later.

About 300 people gathered at about 2 p.m. in front of the popular restaurant Versailles, 3555 SW Eighth St., to support the recent demonstrations on the island.

This week, members of the San Isidro Movement, a collective of young artists and activists who oppose Miguel Diaz-Canel’s regime in Cuba, participated in a hunger strike. On Thursday night, Cuban authorities violently repressed them, sparking an unprecedented massive protest Friday night. On Saturday, San Isidro supporters called for another protest in front of the Cuban Ministry of Interior Commerce to demand the closure of dollar stores.

Edmundo García arrived and agitated the crowd in Miami, which spilled into Calle Ocho and screamed at him, ordering him to leave. Garcia didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

A counter protestor, wearing blue cap, is shouted down as he is escorted by Miami Police during a rally in front of Versailles Restaurant in Miami in support of Cuban artists arrested in Cuban on Saturday, November 28, 2020.
A counter protestor, wearing blue cap, is shouted down as he is escorted by Miami Police during a rally in front of Versailles Restaurant in Miami in support of Cuban artists arrested in Cuban on Saturday, November 28, 2020.

Shortly after, protesters charged that police officers handcuffed some of their own, including the beloved Otaola, who hosts a show called “Hola! Ota Ola” on social media and YouTube. About 90,000 users follow his Facebook page. They chanted phrases like “We are all Otaola,” “Down with Díaz-Canel” and “Free Cuba,” according to various videos posted on social media.

Officer Kenia Fallat, a spokeswoman for the Miami Police Department, said police detained five people and took them to the station for questioning but later let them go.

“When everything unraveled, there was no crime committed,” she said.

At about 6 p.m., Otaola returned to the scene and using a megaphone explained “it was a misunderstanding.”

Cuban Influencer Alex Otaola, speaks during rally at Versailles Restaurant in Miami in support of Cuban artists arrested in by the Cuban government on Saturday, November 28, 2020.
Cuban Influencer Alex Otaola, speaks during rally at Versailles Restaurant in Miami in support of Cuban artists arrested in by the Cuban government on Saturday, November 28, 2020.

“It was an uncomfortable situation created by Edmundo García, by the envoys of communism and the left. I’m here, everything is perfect,” he assured.

Then he cheered in favor of the police: “Long live the police. Long live freedom.” Those assembled cheered back.

Otaola had invited the South Florida community out to the rally during a live video late Friday night. “What is happening in Havana at this time is transcendental ... it is something that we have to celebrate,” he said with a wide smile.

He told them to come with “congas, with flags, with music, with party, with joy” to celebrate what he called “the year of liberation” for Cuba.

Ramón Saúl Sánchez, leader of the Movimiento Democracia and a well-known member of the Cuban exile community in Miami, said he and a few others sat on the ground when police detained Otaola and others Saturday. He said he told police he refused to get up until they freed those arrested.

Ramon Saul Sanchez appears to be detained but then released by Miami Police during rally at Versailles Restaurant in Miami in support of Cuban artists arrested by the Cuban government on Saturday, November 28, 2020.
Ramon Saul Sanchez appears to be detained but then released by Miami Police during rally at Versailles Restaurant in Miami in support of Cuban artists arrested by the Cuban government on Saturday, November 28, 2020.

But then an officer approached him and promised he would figure it out but asked him to allow Calle Ocho to open up for traffic again.

“When he gave me his word, I stood up and encouraged others to do so, too,” he said. “It all went down with great respect from both sides. There was no violence, and eventually they followed through and released the boys.”

María Elvira Salazar, the former journalist who recently won the federal congressional race for District 27 in Florida, said in a Facebook post at about 3 p.m. that she spoke to Miami Mayor Francis Suárez and that they would release Otaola.

“It has been a bad moment that is about to end. Otaola is our friend, and we are with him!” Salazar wrote. She later shared a video of Otaola back at the rally.

Acabo de hablar con el Alcalde de la ciudad de Miami— Francis Suárez— y a Alex Otaola lo van a soltar en los próximos...

Posted by Maria Elvira Salazar on Saturday, November 28, 2020

Soledad Cedro, the mayor’s communications director, said Suarez received a few calls Saturday afternoon about what had happened at Versailles, so he phoned the police chief, who then got in touch with his staff. They all agreed nothing illegal had gone down.

Cedro said the mayor supports the right to freedom of expression of those who mobilized today, as he did earlier this year with those who joined nationwide protests after George Floyd’s death.

“We need to make sure that the people of Miami can express themselves,” she said. “This has been always been the mayor’s position.”

City of Miami Commissioner Manolo Reyes said he attended the rally in Versailles, located in his District 4, after he heard of the cops’ involvement. He blamed Garcia, whom he called an “apologist for the Cuban dictatorship” for briefly interrupting the protest, which the organizers had gotten a legal permit to hold, he said.

“After [Garcia] left and the organizer came back, everything was peaceful; everything was nice,” Reyes said.

Grettel Perez holds a sign of an artist arrested in Cuba during an anti-Cuban government rally at Versailles Restaurant in Miami in support of Cuban artists arrested in Cuba on Saturday, November 28, 2020.
Grettel Perez holds a sign of an artist arrested in Cuba during an anti-Cuban government rally at Versailles Restaurant in Miami in support of Cuban artists arrested in Cuba on Saturday, November 28, 2020.