Democracy Movement flotilla launches fireworks off Cuba’s coast

Three ships from the Democracy Movement flotilla stationed themselves right outside of Cuba’s territorial waters on Tuesday and set off fireworks at sunset.

Via McClatchy Newspapers:

Flotilla shoots off fireworks near Cuba

– As the bright orange sun set Tuesday, a Cuban exile flotilla of three fishing boats called the Democracia, Muscle Princess and Nilito’s Toy II stopped in choppy, deep blue international waters – 121/2 nautical miles from Havana – to set off fireworks. They symbolized “lights to liberty.”

At first, just a few tall buildings could be seen in the distance. As it got darker, the entire coastline lit up.

“I’m thinking I’m so close, yet so far away,” said Rufina Velazquez, 23, who came to Miami in 2009 on a political refugee visa. “This is the closest I’ve been to my family for over three years and the closest I am going to be in I don’t know how many more years. The Cuban government is keeping me not just from my family but from my people and my country.”

It’s the closest most of the 30 or so Cuban exiles who took part in the flotilla have been to their homeland in decades, since they fled the Castro regime.

Exiles old and young made the more than 160-mile, 18-hour roundtrip boat journey – in sea conditions that became increasingly dangerous throughout the night – to show support for their countrymen who are actively seeking their own freedom.

The flotilla, which left from the Key West Bight Marina, could not wait for calmer seas – not when the world’s eyes were focused on the island nation for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI.

Despite winds gusting to 20 knots and waves up to seven feet, the high-seas light show began. Visibility was good to see the fireworks that filled the sky, first with colors of white and yellow to welcome the pope.

Cheers soon erupted on the 39-foot boat Democracia. Ramon Saul Sanchez, leader of the Democracy Movement and organizer of the flotilla, announced that he had just learned from a Cuban blogger he reached via satellite phone that the fireworks could indeed be seen from various sites in Cuba.

The boat’s radio operator also was receiving messages in Morse code that confirmed the fireworks could be seen on the island. “The people who can see them are getting goose bumps and are so happy,” Sanchez said.

The fireworks continued for more than an hour, with the colors getting brighter and brighter. They were launched from the Muscle Princess, a Marathon-based stone crab commercial vessel loaned to the effort by Cuban exile Denny Valladares. He arrived in the United States in 1980 during the Mariel boatlift and no longer has family living in Cuba. But he still wants to live long enough to see a free Cuba, he said.

“Cuba is like a big prison,” Velazquez said. “The fireworks are important to show the Cuban people that we do understand, we do care and we do support everything they are doing. We’re blood. We’re brothers. Every Cuban in every part of the world cares about you. And Cubans everywhere, in China, in Mexico, want a free Cuba.”

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