Exiles hold fireworks display off Cuban coast

Democracy Movement, a US-based group, holds display in boats anchored off Cuba in bid to inspire anti-government action.

    Exiles hold fireworks display off Cuban coast
    The vessels set sail from the US before setting fireworks off the coast of the Cuban capital [Reuters]

    Fireworks have lit up the horizon just off the coast of Havana in an event organised by Cuban exiles hoping to inspire pro-democracy protests on the island nation.

    The red, white and gold fireworks on Saturday night were clearly visible from Havana's seafront Malecon Boulevard and lasted about an hour. People who saw it said they were mystified by its origin.

    "It's curious, because you don't see that often on the Malecon," said Jose Antonio Camejo, who was fishing from the seawall along with family members.

    Told it was organised by Cuban exiles from Florida, he shrugged and told the AP news agency: "They must be celebrating something."

    The small Florida non-profit group the Democracy Movement said earlier that they would park their vessels 20km from Havana, outside the country's 19km territorial-water limits.

    The exiles timed the show to coincide with a summer carnival draw thousands of people to the Malecon, and called the show a peaceful display of solidarity with their compatriots.

    "When you see the lights of freedom, walk toward the seawall as a silent protest against censorship of expression," said the Democracy Movement's Ramon Saul Sanchez to AP.

    "And when you're there, among the people, think of freedom, murmur 'freedom' and if you deem it prudent, demand freedom."

    Government irritation

    Cuban authorities scaled back the carnival festivities after torrential rains on Saturday soaked Havana and left huge puddles on the Malecon.

    Several hundred people still came out to laugh and canoodle on the seawall, and families queued up for sizzling barbecue chicken.

    Like similar previous displays, the fireworks did not elicit any discernible protest from Havana residents.

    But the shows are an irritation for the Communist-run government, which considers them provocative, subversive and even potentially dangerous.

    Cuban officials did not respond to requests for comment, but have criticized Washington in the past for not blocking the actions.

    In 1996, the Cuban military shot down two small planes carrying exile activists, killing four people. Cuba maintains the aircraft violated the country's airspace, though the exiles deny that.

    Internet access

    Sanchez said he had been in contact with the US Coast Guard, which has patrolled previous sea missions to guard against an international incident, and given assurances that they would remain outside the 19km maritime limit.

    US officials have said they do not encourage or condone such activities, but lack legal authority to block them.

    Sanchez said a second message behind the display was to demand greater internet access on the island, which lags the rest of the world despite the completion of an undersea fibre-optic cable last year.

    "The Cuban government has just installed the cable from Venezuela that allows 3,000 times more technical capability of connection, and yet it has not translated into benefits for the Cuban people in terms of access," he said.

    Cuba blames its creaky internet on Washington's 50-year-old economic embargo against the island.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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