TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke at Freedom Tower in Miami to provide a status update on funding for restoring the building and sign legislation about multiple bills to honor Cuban freedom fighters and Floridians who fought against Castro before leaving Cuba to come to Florida.
DeSantis said $25 million would be budgeted to restore the Tower.
“We have been here before, most recently we announced that in the upcoming legislative session, which of course we finished in March, that we wanted to put our money where our mouth is and make sure we’re doing all we can to restore this building. So today is a status report on that. Also going to sign some great legislation here today,” DeSantis said.
The governor introduced some of the other speakers who were participating in the event, a variety of lawmakers and community members. The event signage read “Honoring Victims of Communism.”
“This tower represents a symbol of freedom, it stands as a symbol against Communist oppression. From 1959 to 1974, more than 650,000 Cubans came to the United States to flee the oppressive Communist regime of Fidel Castro,” DeSantis said. “Many of them came to south Florida either by plane or by boat, and once they landed, they would be taken right here to the Freedom Tower, where they would receive assistance to begin their new life in the United States. For those folks who came, and really for all of us as we look back on our history, the Freedom Tower represented a turning point not only in their lives but also a turning point for human liberty. Because leaving Castro’s tyranny to live in a free society provided opportunities for those Cuban exiles that they would have never had if they had to stay under the yoke of Communist oppression. And so when you think of landmarks in American history, yes of course we think of things like the Statue of Liberty and places like Ellis Island. The Freedom Tower really belongs right there alongside them. I think this tower is a reminder that freedom is not free, that you have to fight for your rights, and there are a lot of people that are out there that would love nothing more than to put you under some form of oppression.”
Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez and state Sen. Manny Diaz (R-Hialeah Gardens) were among speakers at the event.
DeSantis continued his speech, and said while they were going to talk about the budget, but that he’d also be signing House Bill 395, which designates Nov. 7 as the state’s official “Victims of Communism Day,” to “honor the more than 100 million people who have fallen victim to communist regimes across the world,” according to the governor.
“We want to make sure that every year that folks in Florida, but particularly our students, will learn about the evils of Communism, the dictators that have led Communist regimes, and the hundreds of millions of individuals who suffered and continue to suffer against the weight of this discredited ideology,” DeSantis said. “Now there are a lot of people out there who will promote things like Socialism and Communism, but the things we’ve seen is that a lot of young people don’t really know that much about what Communism meant in practice and continues to mean in different parts of the world. You can see at a college campus, students flying the hammer and sickle from the old Soviet flag. You will see students that will have T-shirts with Che Guevara on the T-shirts. You will see students that idolize people like Mao Zedong. That to me speaks of a tremendous ignorance about what those individuals represented and the evils that Communism inflicted on people around the world. Our goal here is to stand for the truth. It’s to make sure that Florida, every year, will be able to speak the truth about the evils of Communism and recognize those who have fought under the yoke and escaped, for freedom. I notice that the people who escape Communism for free societies never choose to go back. I don’t know many that do that, in fact I think you look now, there’s focus of course on places in Eastern Europe for obvious reasons…There are probably more Marxists on college faculties in the United States than there are in all of Eastern Europe combined. They don’t want to go back to Communism.”
DeSantis said the legislation he would be signing would ensure that Florida’s students and residents learn about and remember “the atrocities committed by Mao Zedong” while he was the leader of China’s Communist government.
“Things like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Of course, China continues to be the leading force of oppression around the world, but that body count of Mao is something that everybody needs to understand, because it is a direct result of this Communist ideology. The legislation also ensures that students will learn about people like Lenin and Stalin, and the tyranny of the Soviet Union, where they had millions of people disappeared into KGB prisons or Siberian Gulags,” DeSantis said. “I want to make sure that people understand the atrocities of somebody like Pol Pot, the communist dictator of Cambodia that carried out a genocide of nearly two million in the killing fields. I know we don’t need legislation here to do this, but I think it’s our responsibility to make sure that people know about the atrocities committed by people like Fidel Castor and even more recently, people like Nicolas Maduro. We understand that in South Florida, we want to make sure that everybody throughout Florida understands that. this is really really significant, and I want to thank the legislature for really taking the lead to make sure we were doing this. The United States did a Victims of Communism Memorial, I think that was about 15 to 20 years ago, where that was established, and this is something that needs to be on the forefronts of people’s minds.”
Then he referenced the last time he’d spoken at Freedom Tower, pointing out that the museum had “needed a little bit of love.”
At the time, DeSantis said he had a goal of allocating $20 million to preform repairs and restoration, as well as some redesigns to make the building more accessible and engaging. The amount approved by the legislature to do so was higher.
“And I’m happy to report that we have not fully signed the budget, we’re still going through things, but the legislature provided and I have approved a full $25 million to be able to support the Freedom Tower. We know it needs some love, we know it needs some repairs, so this funding will be used to complete urgent structural repairs,” DeSantis said. “It will conserve and restore historical architectural components, it will make the building more accessible for people with disabilities, and we’ll install museum-quality climate control and security systems to safe-guard the Cuban-American history that is stored here, and will reimagine and redesign the exhibits displaying that history to make it more engaging for all ages.”
He thanked the Florida Legislature “for delivering” on the previous promise. He also said at the event that he would sign Senate Bill 160, which makes 26 road designations, including honors for three Cubans “who fought against the Castro regime.”
He said the intersection of Southwest 8th Street in Miami-Dade County was designated as “Arturo Diaz-Artiles Plaza,” named for a Cuban exile who moved to Miami and opened a pharmacy which became known as a gathering place for fellow exiles. Diaz Artiles passed away in 2013. He was honored for service to the community, according to DeSantis, particularly helping the elderly.
In Hillsborough County, the intersection of West Columbus Drive between North Himes Avenue and North MacDill Avenue will be designated the Maximino Capdevila Road, named for Maximino and his wife, who came to the United States in 1962 and opened La Teresita in Tampa. DeSantis said they have “selflessly served” the Cuban community in Tampa for years at al lot of their businesses.
The last, a portion of State Road 953, Lejeune Road between Northwest 11th Street and Northwest 14th Street in Miami-Dade County will be designated Oswaldo Payá Way. Payá founded the Christian Liberation Movement in Cuba, and “was one of the first outspoken opposition leaders against the Castro dictatorship,” DeSantis said, and fought for democracy and to change the regime. He died in 2012, in a “mysterious car accident,” that the governor said some believe was “orchestrated” by the Cuban government. DeSantis said he believed the day was a “blockbuster day for freedom,” and praised the Miami community for being a unified voice for freedom of people suffering under Communism in the western hemisphere.
He said when people looked for the moral compass of what’s happening on this side of the world, they’d look to Florida and Miami.
“I’m proud to be a part of that, I’m proud to be standing for the truth,” DeSantis said. “Ronald Reagan said that one day, Communism would be viewed as a sad bizarre chapter in human history, whose last pages were being written as they spoke. That was in the early 80s when people thought the Cold War was going to go on forever. I think through his leadership, and many others, the Soviet Union was brought to heel. The Berlin Wall was brought down. You’d think that after seeing all of the wreckage of Communism, it would be something that faded into the background, but it’s not dead. These Marxist ideas are not dead, they are in many places, right now, oppressing people such as in Communist China. So when we’re speaking the truth, it’s not just for history, it’s for the here and now.”
DeSantis thanked everyone present for joining, then introduced the next speaker, President of Miami-Dade College, Madeline Pumariega.
“I stand here and I speak on behalf of 120,000 students at Miami-Dade College, 75% of whom that are Hispanic, and many whose parents and grandparents fled Communism to come to this country for the opportunity that they’re giving their children,” Pumariega said. “I stand here on behalf of my peers, whose parents, it was my mom and dad who were processed right here in Freedom Tower, only in the land of the free and only in a free Florida and a free America, does the daughter of Cuban immigrants processed in this building, given a piece of cheese and given a coat that was too small and sent to Texas stands here to lead the largest college in America. Democracy’s college.”
Pumariega thanked the governor and other state leaders for their investment and said that their support ensured “someone else just like” her standing there in the next century to make sure the story of the past generations were told, and make sure that no “Che Guevara shirt” on one of their campuses.
“Our students are hardworking students trying to build the American dream for their families, because they, like me, are on the shoulders of giants,” Pumariega said. “Making sure that the story of freedom and a free Florida is never forgotten.”
She said that the bills were important because what you don’t learn about, what is forgotten, will repeat. Pumariega said it was their duty to make sure that the legacy of freedom fighters were preserved, and ensure that history does not repeat itself again.
Diaz spoke next, highlighting the importance of fighting against Communism, and fighting it here at home, in America.
“What’s happened during COVID, is a lot of these governments across the United States, have tried to lock people down, a version of communism,” Diaz said. “And who’s stood in the way of that? Gov. Ron DeSantis. So thank you for that.”
Diaz said “we all stand on the shoulders of giants,” there with them, whether they were speaking or not. He said it was everyone’s job to “make sure that this Tower stands, that the lessons stand for the next generations,” so future Floridians understand the power of freedom, and the perils of Communism.
“I’m very lucky to not only have sponsored the bill with my colleagues in the House, but also the opportunity to implement this bill,” as the incoming Commissioner of Education, “and make sure that everyone of our students that goes through a government class in the state of Florida will have a lesson on the perils and evils of Communism,” Diaz said. “And that we will have a day every year to commemorate those victims. So as we stand here today in this Freedom Tower, which we are very fortunate to have the leadership of Gov. DeSantis and the support of our legislature to bring those $25 million so that future generations can understand.”
Diaz said Freedom Tower was Florida’s Ellis Island, and again thanked the governor for his efforts to “fight for freedom.”
Then Rosa Maria Payá, the daughter of Oswaldo Paya, spoke.
“Next July will mark the 10-year anniversary of the killing of my father, at the hands of hte Cuban regime,” Payá said. “But sadly, my father was not the only one killed that day. My dear friend, Harold Cepero was also killed, 10 years ago. As thousands of Cubans before them during these six decades, actually some Cubans after them, last July 11, when Diubis Laurencio was shot down in the street just because he was filming a peaceful protest,” Payá said. “Actually, while we talk today, at least 1,000 Cubans are suffering political prison just for peacefully marching, demanding freedom, demanding hte ned of Communism. The same evil that is now going to be taught in schools in Florida, all set to commemorate all of the victims, and looking at everyone, I’m recognizing victims of communism while I talk. It’s time to stop this process, this factory of victims, that is Communism. That fight is started by teaching the evils of Communism. That’s hwy I’m so thankful that you decided to rename this portion of LeJeune Avenue after my father. Because honoring him today is also to honor all of the victims, but it’s also to write the voice…the thousands of victims that are being victimized today in Cuba, in Venezuela, in Nicaragua, in Ukraine, in China and so many other countries. This is not something from the past, this is something that is taking place right now.”
Payá said the crisis was created by the regimes in Cuba and Nicaragua, and said the border crisis was caused by thousands of Cubans escaping the dictatorship. She said that last year, Russia had threatened another Cuban missile crisis, as they began preparing to invade Ukraine.
“We are fighting a war to stop evil, an evil that through the means of propaganda has contaminated the souls and minds of many young people,” Payá said. “In this country, and in the whole hemisphere.” She said she appreciated the way Florida was honoring the victims of Communism both through renaming streets and through education in the state.
Lt. Gov. Nuñez spoke next.
“I will say, and I think everyone here in the audience will agree with me, the Communist story is a story that for many of us hits close to home,” Nuñez said. “And I have often said that there is no place in this country that understands the importance of freedom better than right here, South Florida, in our community.”
She thanked Pumariega for hosting the event at the Freedom Tower, saying that it was precious and important to the Cuban exile community, praising the restoration effort by state leaders.
“We know that the tyranny of Communism imprisons dissidents and suppresses information that’s damaging to their regime so they can maintain control,” Nuñez said. “They’ve ripped families apart. They have continued to rob the entrepreneurial dreams, the spirits, the hopes ,the dreams of so many. As I look into the faces of the audience, I see so many people who had to forego their dreams in order to come to this country in search of freedom.”
The lieutenant governor said in crises after crises, Communist regimes create them and do nothing but inflict suffering. She said, agreeing with DeSantis, that across college campuses in the U.S., Communism, Marxism, Socialism being romanticized.
“Positive attitudes” toward Communism, “was at an all time high,” Nuñez said. “But not here in Florida.”
She said actions like removing “woke ideologies” and critical race theory from the classroom “helps ensure” that Florida’s students get the best educations, free from socialist ideologies and other woke terms that would not be allowed.
Calling back to DeSantis’ mention of former President Reagan, Nuñez said “He said that freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” and that “truer words have never been spoken.” She said that the state legislation was necessary to “not only teach our children, but our children’s children the importance of freedom, the terrible tyranny of Communism.”
Nuñez said the new laws would ensure that on Nov. 7, students would understand the importance of history and what has happened across the world and in the past.
When DeSantis returned to the podium, after Nuñez, he criticized recently announced plans by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s anti-disinformation wing.
“I think we’ve got to be willing to speak out when we see things that aren’t consistent with our values in our own country,” DeSantis said. “And most recently, having the federal government set up a disinformation bureau in the Department of Homeland Security is wrong. What they are doing to try to stifle dissent, to try to elevate a chosen narrative that’s endorsed by the regime, and to try to marginalize dissenters, is not what a free society is all about. And what they will use that for, I believe, is to feed social media platforms with what they want to be censored and what they don’t want to be censored.”
DeSantis praised Elon Musk for taking over Twitter in order to “open it up.”
Then, the governor quickly rehashed the back and forth between Musk and Twitter’s Board regarding the buyout offer, as well as previous issues with what he referred to as censorship when DeSantis and others for information that later “turned out to be true.” The governor mentioned school lockdown efforts and viewpoint enforcement as concerns.
“When you speak out against that, maybe you’ll be suspended, maybe you’ll be totally de-platformed, maybe your post will be censored,” DeSantis said. “And they even do it for satire sites like the Babylon Bee.” The governor said part of that censorship was part of why he believed Musk became interested in taking over Twitter, and again weighed in on the investments Florida’s pension fund has in Twitter and his previous threats to have the state discuss the company’s fiduciary responsibility had they not accepted Musk’s $44 billion buyout offer.
“There is no orthodoxy that the government can impose on us, we’re able to speak our minds, and that disinformation bureau needs to go the way of the buffalo, we need to eliminate that, that is a big danger to free expression in this country,” DeSantis said.
Then he signed the bills mentioned during the opening of the announcement, there was no question and answer session at the close of the event.