Florida boaters could risk fines, prison by going to Cuba

Boaters must have a permit to travel to Cuba

A demonstrator holds up a bead necklace in the colors of the Cuban flag, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, as people rallied in support of antigovernment demonstrations in Cuba. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (Wilfredo Lee, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

MIAMI – Federal authorities are warning organizers planning to launch a flotilla next week from South Florida to waters near Cuba that they could risk breaking the law.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in an advisory Thursday that boaters intending to enter Cuban territorial waters must get permission from the U.S. Coast Guard. Violators risk facing fines of $25,000 a day and 10 years in prison, the advisory said.

“It is illegal for boaters to depart with the intent to travel to Cuba for any purpose without a permit," the advisory said.

People who bring foreign nationals into the U.S. illegally risk facing fines of up to $250,000 a day and five years in prison, the department said.

According to Osdany Veloz, an organizer of the boaters, the goal of next Monday's planned trip is to go to international waters near the island, but not cross into Cuban waters, to let island residents know they have supporters in South Florida.

Organizers said they will set sail from South Florida if 100 boaters show up, according to Miami television station WFOR-TV.

“The purpose is to stay on the border, not trespassing, stay in international water and just let the Cuban people know we’re also fighting for their freedom, so once and for all they can be a free country,” said Jorge Lopez, who plans to make the trip.

Thousands of Cubans began taking to the streets last weekend to protest limited access to COVID-19 vaccines and basic goods. The country is going through its worst economic crisis in decades.

The protests in the island nation have sparked an outpouring of support in Florida, which is home to the nation’s largest community of Cuban exiles. Throngs of people in Miami, Orlando and the Tampa area have rallied in support, sometimes shutting down major thoroughfares.