Miami’s 100-year-old Freedom Tower will get a major renovation with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announcing he will give $25 million to the project in the state’s 2022 budget proposal.
The Freedom Tower has “served as a beacon of hope for the thousands of Cubans who escaped their homeland to find freedom,” DeSantis said at a news conference on Nov. 15.
The 289-foot tower was built in the early 1920s to house the Miami News. But, in 1962, it was renamed the Freedom Tower as it became a center for the federal Cuban Refugee Assistance Program to provide aid for thousands of Cubans who fled the island nation after Fidel Castro’s communist regime took over in 1959.
The tower became known as the “Ellis Island of the South.”
The building changed hands throughout the years and in 2004 the property was sold to Pedro Martin, a prominent Cuban American business leader and developer, who then donated it to Miami-Dade College.
In October 2008, the building was designated a National Historic Landmark, recognizing the building’s historical significance for its role in processing refugees fleeing the communist regime. Currently, the college uses the tower for cultural programs.
The $25 million proposed renovation project will include structural repairs and upgrades to make the building more accessible to disabled people, according to the governor.
The 87,000 square foot Freedom Tower houses nearly 3,000 pieces of art and artifacts.
Just 90 miles south of Miami, the fight for change in Cuba continues on through a new generation of Cubans who want “freedom and democracy,” DeSantis told the crowd, before pivoting to call on the Biden administration to do more to help the people of Cuba.
“The Biden administration needs to get on the right side of this,” he said. “The Biden administration has ignored the cries of the Cuban people and has stood by and done nothing.”
“The state of Florida stands with everybody who is taking to the streets, everybody who is protesting,” the governor added.
The governor’s visit on Nov. 15 comes a day after anti-communist demonstrations in Miami, as well as other larger Florida cities such as Tampa and Orlando.
For months, Cuban “dissidents”, as they have been labeled by the Havana government, planned a “Civic March for Change” supporting civil and human rights on Nov. 15.
In July, a similar demonstration—reportedly the largest since the 1959 communist revolution—saw more than 1,000 people detained and hundreds arrested in Cuba. Many remain in jails.
Miguel Diaz-Canel, the first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, prohibited the Nov. 15 march in Havana—as well as other protests planned in other Cuban cities—saying they were “part of a destabilization campaign by the United States” to “steal the thunder from Cuba as it lifts its coronavirus tourism restrictions.”
U.S. officials have denied the allegations.
Over the weekend news outlets reported that Cuban playwright and demonstration organizer Yunior García Aguilera was trapped in his Havana apartment by Cuban authorities for attempting to organize an anti-regime protest.
The plight of Cuba’s people has caught the attention of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Tampa).
“My neighbors are lending their voices and rallying in the streets in support of their families and friends who are living in desperation on the island,” Castor said in a written statement. “The Tampa Bay community stands in solidarity with the Cuban people for human rights, freedom of expression and a better life.”