As Cubans called for protests against the island’s communist regime Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis called on lawmakers to invest $25 million in the Freedom Tower, a historic site in Miami known for its role in helping those fleeing Cuba.
The Freedom Tower was built in 1925, and in the 1960s the federal government used it to process Cuban refugees and provide them services. The nearly century-old building, which was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and became a National Historic Landmark in 2008, is in need of repairs and restoration.
Speaking to a seated crowd in the building, DeSantis called his $25 million appropriation request a “layup” for the Legislature benefiting the structure that stands as a stark comparison to the dictatorship 90 miles away.
“If it just teaches young people what this means and they learn about the history and the struggles, and that they’re better citizens as a result of it, that will pay for itself 10 times,” DeSantis said.
The Governor compared the Freedom Tower to Constitution Hall in Pennsylvania, the Alamo in Texas, and the Lincoln Memorial or Washington Monument in the nation’s capital. The building, with its Mediterranean-style structure, stands out against the modern skyline along Miami streets, he noted.
“It makes me feel good, when I see the Freedom Tower, to be an American, to be a Floridian,” DeSantis said.
People marched through Miami streets Monday in solidarity with Cubans who had planned to protest the communist dictatorship. The protests were to be a follow-up to those in July that were the biggest on the island in decades. However, Cuban government forces prevented any protests.
While DeSantis implored President Joe Biden to provide internet to help protesters earlier this year, and even suggested Florida might do so unilaterally, the topic has waned. The Governor called the federal response “pathetic” and a possibly “missed historic opportunity.”
“There’s been different flashpoints throughout the last many decades,” DeSantis said. “But I don’t know that you’ve ever seen this much dissatisfaction boiling to the surface where we really could see a change and see a better future, finally, after decades of repression.”
Sylvia Iriondo, an activist and Cuban exile, recalled stories and emotions of entering the building, which she called a beacon of hope and American generosity.
“Cuba is the cancer,” Iriondo said. “The metastasis is in Venezuela, in Nicaragua, in Bolivia, in Colombia and in our whole hemisphere, and unless we put a stop to it, it jeopardizes our values, it jeopardizes our principles and it jeopardizes our freedom.”
Americans tend to take freedom for granted, most having grown up with it their entire lives, DeSantis added. The Governor, who has fought lockdowns and mandates during the pandemic as draconian and has criticized socialism and liberal ideologies, suggested there is nowhere left to flee if freedom is taken away in the United States.
“This is, really, freedom’s last stand,” DeSantis said.