Florida won't tolerate anti-Cuban government protests that shut down roadways, governor says

New law punishes demonstrators who 'willfully obstruct' streets, highways, roads
Cuba protesters shut down I-95 near the Okeechobee Boulevard exit on July 13, 2021
Posted at 8:58 AM, Jul 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-19 08:58:01-04

MIAMI — Florida won't tolerate anti-Cuban government protests that shut down major roadways in the Sunshine State, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday.

The state's newly passed "anti-riot law" -- known more formally as House Bill 1 -- punishes demonstrators who "willfully obstruct the free, convenient, and normal use of a public street, highway or road" by "impeding, hindering, stifling, retarding, or restraining traffic."

It goes on to say that a pedestrian "endangering the safe movement of vehicles" shall be cited and face punishment.


The law came into focus on Tuesday when dozens of anti-Cuban government protesters flooded Interstate 95, shutting it down near Okeechobee Boulevard in West Palm Beach for about an hour.

Major roadways in Miami-Dade County, including the Palmetto Expressway, were also blocked for hours earlier this week during passionate Cuban rallies.

Cuba protesters shut down I-95 near the Okeechobee Boulevard exit on July 13, 2021
Protesters shut down Interstate 95 near the Okeechobee Boulevard exit on July 13, 2021, in West Palm Beach.

Speaking in Miami on Thursday, DeSantis said that while he encourages and supports peaceful demonstrations, they can't cross the line and put lives in danger.

"We can't have that. It's dangerous for you to be shutting down a thoroughfare. You're also putting other people in jeopardy. You don't know if any emergency vehicle needs to get somewhere," DeSantis said. "It's not something that we're gonna tolerate."


Gov. DeSantis talks anti-riot bill

It's unclear if anyone was cited for Tuesday's demonstrations West Palm Beach or Miami.

However, the Florida Highway Patrol said people blocking traffic are not only breaking the law, but also endangering both law enforcement officers and other members of the public.

Overall, the rallies in South Florida since Sunday have been peaceful with no reports of looting or violence against police.

"Most of the places around Florida, as soon as those folks were told, they got off. But we gotta keep the roads clear," DeSantis said. "The law enforcement did the right thing to clear it. And that's just something that we can't have."

Cubans have taken to the streets both on the island nation and in South Florida in protest of the country's Communist government, with many local Cuban Americans calling for U.S. intervention.

During a roundtable discussion in Miami on Tuesday, DeSantis said this week's demonstrations are "fundamentally different" from the 2020 protests in support of police reform after George Floyd's killing.

"People [last summer] were burning down buildings, looting, breaking windows, targeting law enforcement," DeSantis said. "I think that people understand the difference between going out and peacefully assembling, which is obviously people's Constitutional right, and attacking other people."

When DeSantis signed the "Combating Public Disorder" bill into law in April, he said the state wasn't going to allow "the mob win the day."

A social justice group filed a lawsuit against DeSantis two days later, saying the law risks criminalizing peaceful protests and shields people who injure or kill protesters.

"There is nothing wrong with doing peaceful demonstrations," DeSantis said on Thursday. "We support them and their ability to do that. But it can't be where you shut down commerce or you shut down the ability to use these arteries."