SURFSIDE, Fla. — State and local officials on Monday expressed their support for thousands of Cubans who are protesting a severe lack of food, medicine, and freedom as the island nation grapples with the grave effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to multiple reports, demonstrators swarmed the streets on Sunday, calling for President Miguel Díaz-Canel to step down.
"We remain steadfast in our support on the side of freedom and Democracy," said Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez on Monday during a news conference at the site of a collapsed Surfside condominium building. "Florida supports the people of Cuba as they take to the streets against the tyrannical regime that has plagued them for so many decades."
WATCH NUNEZ'S COMMENTS:
Nuñez added the next several days will be "pivotal" for the freedom-seeking people of Cuba, and state and local officials are prepared for "any and all impacts" we may see in South Florida.
"The governor is actively monitoring the protests on the island," Nuñez said.
Sharing that support was Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who said she's praying for "real change" and a "vision of a free Cuba."
"We stand united with the Cuban people on the island and all across our own community at this historic moment in the struggle for freedom, dignity, and basic human rights," Levine Cava said.
WATCH LEVINE CAVA'S COMMENTS:
On Sunday, hundreds of Cubans in Palm Beach County rallied in solidarity at the intersection of Forest Hill Boulevard and Military Trail.
Local Cubans told WPTV they're frustrated with the obstacles in place to send aid to their family and friends who are suffering and dying on the island nation.
President Joe Biden released the following statement Monday about the unrest in Cuba:
"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. The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected. The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves."
President Joe Biden @POTUS released a statement today regarding the protests in #Cuba that says in part, "The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves." pic.twitter.com/IlqdyoVWoT— JOSH NAVARRO (@JoshNavarroTV) July 12, 2021
At Monday's White House press briefing, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the protests were inspired by the "harsh reality of everyday life in Cuba."
"There's every indication that yesterday's protests were spontaneous expressions of people who are exhausted with the Cuban government's economic mismanagement and repression," Psaki said.
In a nationally televised address, President Díaz-Canel said U.S. trade sanctions had created economic misery on the Communist-run island. Díaz-Canel did not offer the protesters any concessions in his speech.
Florida is home to the largest population of Cuban Americans in the U.S.
Local Cuban and Hispanic organizations in South Florida are asking for complete, non-partisan unity. The Box Gallery in West Palm Beach is becoming a hub for information to plan marches to D.C. and in Palm Beach County in support of Cubans on the island.
With anger in their hearts and hope in their heads, the Cuban people have done something they haven’t done in six decades, use their voice.
"I came from Cuba in 1965 on a shrimp boat that landed on Key West. My father died here, but his dream continues on and I'm here to fight for that cause," said Lazaro Mur, the president of the Latino Coalition of the Palm Beaches.
Following decades of oppression in a Communist dictatorship, on Sunday, Cubans on the island protested over the lack of medicine, vaccines, food, adequate health care, and said enough is enough
"This is the pivotal moment in our history in the United States as far as an exiles community. We are divided among many things, but one thing that we can agree on is that we are all unified for liberty for Cuba," said Rolando Chang Barrero, owner of the Box Gallery in West Palm Beach and president of the Democratic Hispanic Chapter in Palm Beach County.
Barrero said his main goal now is to unite Cubans and all Hispanics to ask the White House to intervene.
"I think [President Biden] was very concise in what he said and he allowed us to have a lot of hope that we will be able to rely on a unified United States, that we will be able to seek freedom for Cuba this time by any means," Barrero said.
Mur believes the island needs military intervention above all else, especially after images of unarmed demonstrators being beaten and reports of others being shot by police and government officials in Cuba.
On the island, Cuba's leader blames the U.S. embargo for the feelings of dissatisfaction from the people, blatantly disregarding the chants for freedom and liberty from demonstrators. Those U.S. embargo claims were disproven during a White House press briefing Monday.
"The United States regularly authorizes the export of agriculture products, medicine, medical equipment, and humanitarian goods to Cuba, and since 1992 has authorized billions of dollars of those goods to Cuba. So that's simply inaccurate," Psaki said. "Given the protests were just happening over the last 24 to 48 hours, we're assessing how we can be helpful directly to people of Cuba in these circumstances."
In Palm Beach County, Mur and Barrero hope to work together to unite all organizations in a non-partisan effort to get help to Cuba. And as Cubans continue to use their voices on the island, they hope to march to the White House to seek help.
"WE need everyone from the Hispanic community as well as the community at large, whether or not you’re Cuban to support this cause. Because the ramifications go far beyond the genetic identifications as Cuban. This is a humanitarian issue that calls for global action and it starts in Washington, D.C.," Mur said.
WPTV and CNN contributed to this article.