MIAMI — With reports of South Florida boaters planning to hit the open water on Monday morning and travel toward Cuba over the coming days to show their support for anti-government protests, the U.S. Coast Guard is warning mariners to think twice.
Videos circulating on social media speak of fueling up in Marathon to head out to international waters. The goal, explained by one participant, is to get 100 boats out on the water.
"It's illegal to enter Cuban waters without permission," said Petty Office Nicole Groll with the Coast Guard in Miami. "We do not recommend doing this voyage."
INTERVIEW WITH COAST GUARD:
Groll said the "invisible border" of Cuban territorial waters extends 12 miles from the coast of the island nation. That means if you enter those areas without a proper permit, you could face up to 10 years in prison, penalties up to $25,000 per day, and the seizure of your boat, according to the Coast Guard.
Just as dangerous, Groll said, are the unpredictable conditions in the Florida Straits during hurricane season.
"Lives have been lost making the journey from Cuba to the U.S., and essentially what you're doing is a reverse migration. You're going back there," Groll said. "Visibility goes down, lightning happens. There’s metal pieces on your boat. Please be safe. Make educated decisions. If you get past your skill level, please come back."
Cubans on the island have been launching large-scale protests since Sunday against the Communist dictatorship, speaking out against severe shortages of food, water, medicine, and other essential needs.
In response, the Cuban government blocked social media and Internet access on the island, leaving families with virtually no way to communicate with their loved ones in the U.S.
Groll said that while many South Floridians want to travel by boat toward Cuba to support their relatives on the island, it's much safer to stand in solidarity on dry land.
"Are you really doing what's best for your family in Cuba?" Groll said. "It's safer and minimizes loss of life if you show your support at home. That also helps so your family that you're trying to show support to, you don't potentially lose your life along the journey."
Plan to go to Cuba on your boat? FYI: It's illegal to transit into Cuban waters without an approved permit. Click here for more info https://t.co/uLlMxy3Zcz & RT these flyers to spread the word. #USCG #Miami #D7 #District7 #Cuba pic.twitter.com/5sd9m48uyS— USCGSoutheast (@USCGSoutheast) July 15, 2021
Coast Guard officials said that if you do decide to take the risky journey, make sure your boat is stocked with safety equipment like life jackets, a Marine VHF radio, extra food and water, and flares, and tell people your route, as well as when you plan to return to South Florida.
"Most people go, oh, we'll be fine. You might not be fine. And we need to know where you are so we can come get you and bring you home as safe as possible," Groll said.
For more information about applying for a permit to enter Cuban territorial waters -- which requires several layers of approval -- click here.
Meanwhile in Palm Beach County, groups plan to head to Washington, D.C. by bus next week. The president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said the goal is to set up meetings with point persons in our nation's capital.
"We want to make sure that we are organized while we are up there, rather than just a rally, if you will," Julio Fuentes said. "So we want to make sure it's something meaningful."