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Flotilla departs Miami as act of support for Cubans

Amidst ongoing protests against the Communist regime, a small group of Cuban Americans launched motorboats from Miami, planning to approach Cuba in a show of support for people experiencing hardships on the island.

The flotilla left Miami around 8AM EST, refueling in Key West before heading into the Florida Straits, said Jose Portieles, who is helping organize the effort.

They will remain international waters, some 15 miles (24 kilometers) off the coast of Havana.

“We also want to draw the attention to the United States government that they have to do something,” Portieles said. “We feel identified with what is happening in the protests in Cuba, we could be the ones who are there.”

The Cuban government is not happy. Cuban Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodriguez called the flotilla illegal and urged the U.S. government to halt the boats “to avoid incidents which are not in anyone's best interest.” Although the American Coast Guard warned it would be illegal for the boats to depart U.S. waters with the intention of entering Cuban territorial waters, there is no prohibition for those intending only to go near Cuban waters.

Most of the members aren't activists (nor are they armed) but rather are Cuban-American entrepreneurs who know each other from the South Florida boating community and share a desire to see a free Cuba.

The boaters plan to arrive at the closest point to Cuba by 5 p.m. Friday, before returning to Miami by mid-day Saturday.

The trip was originally planned for Monday but postponed to Friday.

Ramon Saul Sanchez, leader of the nonprofit group Movimiento Democracia that launched several flotillas in the past, was at Bayside to see them off. He advised them not to use flares to draw the attention of the Cuban government, and to go no closer than 15 miles from the coast.

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