Cuban Exile Group Protests with Fireworks

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

( - A Cuban exile flotilla left Key West early Wednesday morning, with plans to launch a 7 p.m. fireworks demonstration in international waters, about 13 miles off Cuba's shore.

Members of the Democracy Movement call the fireworks a "peaceful protest" against the Castro government's policy of rationing food to the Cuban people. While the fireworks erupt offshore, protest groups inside Cuba and in Miami's Little Havana community are expected to hold a noisy "pots and pans" demonstration.

David Rosenthal, a spokesman for the Miami-based Democracy Movement, called today's events "a non-violent demonstration in protest of the ration cards which have been in existence longer than the (U.S. economic) embargo."

Previous Democracy Movement flotillas have used mirrors to signal Cuban protestors, and the group hopes today's fireworks will be seen by many more Cubans.

Ramon Saul Sanchez, head of the Democracy Movement, told the Miami Herald the fireworks demonstration has been planned for the last few months. "This is the first stage of a campaign aimed at getting rid of the food-rationing card," Sanchez said.

Sanchez said a licensed technician aboard one of the group's boats will set off a $1,500 barrage of fireworks to coincide with the clanging of pots and pans.

"They will be protesting with the pots and pans, the food rationing card and the long lines they have to stand in everyday," Sanchez said.

The Castro government blames Cuba's food shortage on the U.S. trade embargo against the communist government.

Cuban Diplomat Warns of U.S. Hegemony

Radio Havana reported Tuesday night that the new Cuban ambassador to Ecuador, Ileana Diaz-Arguelles, said in Quito on Tuesday that Latin America needs to adopt a firm and independent position toward the United States and its "hegemonic desires" on the Latin American region.

Diaz-Arguelles also accused the United States of waging a "solitary war" against Cuba. She said dissidents in Cuba are small groups of disaffected individuals almost always organized and funded by what she called "right-wing organizations" in Washington.

She accused the United States of attempting to push free trade agreements with Latin America simply to bring Latin American countries under the United States' economic umbrella. She said the Castro government opposes what it sees as "clear steps by Washington to control the entire region."

Bush administration officials have said that Latin America will be a "keystone" in the administration's foreign policy.