Just behind the Manuel Artime Theater, an elderly Cuban man in a fedora stood with a microphone. "Donald Trump is a true patriot that wants liberty for Cuba," he hollered in Spanish into the mike. Then he offered his personal theory about why Barack Obama wasn't hard enough on the regime: Obama, he yelled, was gay and in a homosexual relationship with Raúl Castro!
Beside him, a group of weathered, older Cuban men nodded along. Behind a backdrop of an enormous Cuban flag, armed with American flags and bullhorns, they tried to drown out the loud "not my president" chants coming from beyond the barricades across the street.
Inside the theater, President Donald Trump emerged around 1 p.m. to unveil the "better deal" he promised the Cuban people by cracking down on travel to the island. But protesters and Trump supporters had set up shop long before his arrival in the blocked-off street in Little Havana.
Thanks to heavy security, which barricaded off each side of SW Second Street for supporters and opponents of the president — with an army of TV anchors and reporters armed with notebooks stuck right in the middle — the scene outside the theater quickly became a loud shouting match between the differing sides playing to the cameras.
On the south side of the street, yells came from angry Cubans, young and old, to keep "hands off Cuba." Others came to support the cause and display their own disdain for the administration. Mother's stood with their children, such as Rami Ahmadi, who had brought her three young daughters because she thought they too needed to witness what was happening.
On the north side of the block, Trump's most devoted Miami supporters tried to push back on that message. From disabled veterans to women donned in American-flag dresses with cowboy hats to match, they matched the tenacity of the protesters' chants with some of their own: "¡Cuba, sí! ¡Castro, no!"
In an apt metaphor for American society today, the participants couldn't engage in direct conversation because they were trapped on either side of the street. Police quickly herded them back into their isolated areas whenever they drifted outside.
One woman in sky-high red stilettos and a patriotic outfit fought her way to the anti-Trump protesters to perform her own rendition of "God Bless America." The demonstrators, unfazed, simply drowned out every off-key high note with their chants.
Both sides were eager to put on a show. Their audience was each other and the journalists desperately filming. The self-proclaimed singer and another pro-Trump woman posed for a video. An Ecuadorian woman who supports Trump stopped to get her picture taken. Everyone got their spot in the limelight.
But amid the shouts and angry tirades, some real messages were lost. Elena Freyre, the president of the Foundation for Normalization of U.S./Cuba Relations, spoke about coming from Cuba 50 years ago and the family she left behind that she is now able to visit frequently.
"I travel to Cuba and I talk to the Cuban people," she said. "They all want this to go forwards, not backwards."
Moises Aragon, a local artist and son of Cuban parents, recounted his recent travels to the island and said a return to a full Cold War embargo isn't what the Cuban people want. "If they truly do stand with the Cuban people, I think this blockade should be eradicated completely," he said.
But Trump's Cuban supporters erupted into cheers as the loudspeakers placed outside broadcast him commending Cubans in Miami for "being a voice for the voiceless."
Adolfo Peraza Rico was among those cheering. Trump's crackdown was a victory in his book, because according to him, Democrats weren't respecting the values of democracy. He said Obama was respected for eight years, and now it was time for Trump to receive that same treatment.
As Trump told the crowd "God bless Cuba" and wrapped up his speech, the two sides that had briefly fallen dormant were invigorated with an angry force. The right celebrated, repeatedly chanting "Trump!" like a victory message. The left pushed forward, standing by its original message of "¡Cuba, sí! ¡Embargo, no!"
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