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Politics / Issues

DeSantis Supports Cuban Protesters But Says Blocking Traffic Won't Be Tolerated

Ro DeSantis speaking during news conference
Gov. Ron DeSantis
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Gov. Ron DeSantis said demonstrators who have blocked streets in support of protests in Cuba are not in violation of the anti-rioting law.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said recent demonstrations across the state did not violate the new anti-rioting law but noted that blocking roads was illegal in Florida before the bill was signed.

Gov. Ron DeSantis joined lawmakers from the greater Tampa Bay region and across the state in support of demonstrations backing protests in Cuba, but warned blocking streets is “not something we’re going to tolerate.”

Speaking during a news conference in Miami on Thursday to urge the White House to allow Florida to restore internet access to Cuba, DeSantis said the recent protests in Tampa and Miami were not a violation of a recently enacted state law against violent protests.

Demonstrators in Tampa, Miami and Orlando took to the streets this week, blocking thoroughfares. In Tampa, the demonstrators also tried to gain access to Interstate 275 from the Dale Mabry Highway exit.

DeSantis said law enforcement “did the right thing” in clearing the demonstrators, who he said remained peaceful and were not in violation of the Combating Public Disorder Act (House Bill 1).

The law, which went into effect when DeSantis signed it in April, includes a provision imposing penalties for protesters who block roads.

DeSantis said blocking roads has “been illegal in Florida way before HB1.”

“That’s just something that we can’t have,” DeSantis said. “There’s nothing wrong with doing peaceful demonstrations, and HB1 had nothing to do with peaceful. They’re not violent. Those aren’t riots. They’re out there being peaceful and they’re making their voice heard, and we support them and their ability to do that.”

While DeSantis supports peaceful protests, he stressed the importance of not blocking roads.

“We can’t have that,” DeSantis said. “It’s dangerous for you to be shutting down a thoroughfare. You’re also putting other people in jeopardy. You don’t know if an emergency vehicle needs to get somewhere and, obviously, it’s disrespectful to make people stand in traffic.”

DeSantis has faced criticism from Democratic lawmakers who maintain that the governor isn’t equitably applying HB 1, which was passed by the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature this spring, following national protests sparked by the death of George Floyd last year.

A number of groups, including the Dream Defenders and the NAACP, have already filed challenges to the law.

Information from News Service of Florida and WUSF staff writer Daniel Finton were used in this report.

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