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As thousands of Cuban Americans marched in Washington Monday to call for the U.S. to put more pressure on Cuba’s government, former President Donald Trump’s ex-lawyer Rudy Giuliani came to Miami to denounce Cuba’s communist regime. He spoke to a small group of people outside of Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana.
The protests in Washington and Giuliani’s rally-turned-news conference were held on July 26, which marks 68 years since Fidel Castro led his first attack against Fulgencio Batista’s government in Cuba and began his revolution. July 26 is a national holiday in Cuba.
In Miami, about 10 people carrying Cuban flags and wearing shirts and caps with slogans such as “Patria y Vida” and “Cuba SOS,” were outside of the landmark Cuban restaurant Monday morning as horn-honking cars drove by in support. About a dozen police lined the street and set up an impromptu watch tower in the Versailles parking lot.
Giuliani, also the former mayor of New York City, entered the restaurant at about 9 a.m. and did not come out until about 12:30 p.m. to give his remarks in a short, improvised press conference under a scorching sun. He spoke to a group of about 15 people surrounding him, including five protesters who were there since the morning and stood near him. Some of the people waiting to be seated in the restaurant for lunch also walked closer and listened in.
Standing at a makeshift microphone set up by the restaurant’s main entrance, Giuliani in his brief remarks described the Cuban government as one of the most “inhumane, indecent, horrible regimes” in history. He denounced the imprisonment of artist Anyelo Troya, who filmed part of the “Patria y Vida” musical video.
He also criticized President Joe Biden for his reaction to the island’s protests that erupted July 11, which Giuliani believes “will be a very important day in the history of liberty and freedom.”
He said: “It took our president four days to respond to this.” Then added: “And then he made a statement that’s pathetic.”
Biden issued a release July 12 that said in part, “We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime.”
Giuliani said he hasn’t seen any signs that read “give me a vaccine” — only different versions of “Cuba libertad” — and he doesn’t believe the protests have anything to do with COVID-19.
“If the president of the United States can’t speak up for freedom clearly, succinctly and with great strength, then he isn’t a real president,” Giuliani said.
“I’m here to say the American people have got to speak up even more because we have an administration that seems to be soft on communism,” he said. “This is our fight as much as it is the brave Cubans’ that rose up on July 11.”
Giuliani said he didn’t organize the rally. He didn’t say who did. He also said nobody invited him — he just happened to decide to visit Monday.
When asked why the turnout was so low, Giuliani didn’t respond. One of the attendees volunteered an answer for him, half-shouting that the majority of the exile community traveled to Washington, D.C., to protest in front of the White House.
Miami Beach resident Bob Kunst, president of Shalom International, a Jewish activist group, said he heard Sunday night from a friend that Giuliani would be at Versailles. So he woke up early to meet him.
He accomplished his mission: Kunst got to shake Giuliani’s hand as the politician entered Versailles and gave him a bumper sticker that read “Boycott China,” he said. “He loved it,” Kunst said.
Kunst, a registered Democrat, said he attended because he wanted to show solidarity to Cubans. He wore a red cap with Trump 2020 and a white T-shirt that read: “Abajo dictadura. Military intervention. Freedom to Cuba.”
South Florida has seen a wave of demonstrations in the past two weeks, with hundreds gathering and marching across Miami-Dade County in solidarity with the people in Cuba who are calling for freedom. Sunday marked two weeks since protests began in Cuba on July 11. Cuban authorities began prosecuting people who participated in the unprecedented anti-government demonstrations in summary trials last week.
‘This had to come’: More protests throughout Miami
Meanwhile, other Miami events in solidarity with Cubans on the island took place later Monday. A couple dozen people showed up to a “Freedom Vigil” at Hialeah Park Racing and Casino, joined by local and state officials — including Miami-Dade County Commissioner René García, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez and Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.
In Broward County, another protest took place in Pembroke Pines.
And in Calle Ocho, a crowd of over 100 people gathered Monday evening near the Little Havana mural and marched west on Southwest Eighth Street, carrying Cuban flags and signs that said “Freedom for Cuba.” The crowd had gathered after a group of local artists invited supporters to the march, as parallel protests took place in Washington, D.C., and other major cities in the U.S. Mayra Sanchez, a protester at the march in Little Havana, said she had been out of state and hadn’t been able to join any of the Miami demonstrations in the past two weeks.
“Despite the fact that I live here in the United States, I am Cuban. ... I have my mother, I have my whole family there in Cuba and it hurts me so much that that country is being destroyed by communism,” said Sanchez, 63, who was joining a Cuba protest in Miami for the first time on Monday. “This had to come, [Cuban leaders] are running on empty.”