By Peter D'Oench

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Miami’s Freedom Tower is known as the Ellis Island of the South.

From 1962 to 1974 it was famously known as the Cuban Refugee Center after the Cuban Revolution when waves of immigrants came to South Florida.

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On Sunday, thousands in Miami’s Cuban community flocked to it again and rallied for freedom and democracy in Cuba. More are expected on Monday to voice their support for the people of Cuba.

One of those was Governor Ron DeSantis who stopped by and announced that his budget recommendation includes a $25 million investment in the Freedom Tower to preserve it for future generations.

“It’s getting close to being 100 years old and it does need some, some major repairs and some restoration. These are needed to ensure that it’ll continue to stand here as a symbol of freedom and opportunity for decades to come. What we will be able to do with this funding is complete structural repairs that are very urgent, conserve and restore historical architecture components, make the building more accessible for people with disabilities, install museum-quality, climate control and security systems to safeguard the Cuban American history stored here and reimagine and redesign the exhibits displaying that history to make it more engaging for all ages,” he said.

“We need to be good stewards of this history, we need to make sure that people understand what this means particularly and subsequent generations,” he added.

WATCH: Gov. DeSantis Press Conference At The Freedom Tower


 

The governor said the tower, which now belongs to Miami Dade College, is an important part of Florida’s history.

“I think if you look around what Constitution Hall would mean to Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, what the Alamo would mean to Texas, the Freedom Tower means to the state of Florida,” he said. “It’s a symbol of people seeking freedom, and people who have fled communist dictatorship to be able to come live a life and freedom.”

The governor pointed out the stark contrast between South Florida and the Cuban dictatorship, only 90 miles away.

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“I think many of the people who fled Cuba over the decades, probably never envisioned that the tyranny would last this long. And if you think about it, when communism fell in Eastern Europe, when the Soviet Union expired at the beginning of the 1990s, you still had this iron grip on this little island. They didn’t loosen the grip at all, even though the rest of the world had changed,” said DeSantis.

The governor also took a shot at the Biden administration for not doing enough to help the people of Cuba.

“Many people are being targeted by the regime in Havana. You’ve had almost no support whatsoever from the Biden administration. I think that they’re missing a historic opportunity to be able to make common cause with people who just want to be able to live in freedom, want to be able to have a voice in the public affairs of their country and want to move beyond this communist dictatorship,” said DeSantis.

He added “You have a lot of people standing up and fighting against a brutal dictatorship.”

The governor credited the hard work of those who came here as the basis for Miami’s prosperity.

“I can tell you, you would not be seeing a lot of what’s going on in Miami in terms of the boom, if you didn’t have so many people that were that were dedicated to freedom, and they really valued it and did not take it for granted,” said DeSantis.

Activist Sylvia Irionodo, the President of Mothers Against Repression said, “More than 570 Cubans have been arbitrarily imprisoned, tortured, and murdered in addition to the many other political prisoners who have been detained since the July 11th uprising.”

CBS4’s Peter D’Oench also spoke with Republican Congressman Carlos Gimenez about actions that he felt needed to be taken.

“I think we need to support the Cuban people. We need to see how the Cuban regime reacts today to the demonstrations that are going to be happening in the country. We need to increase the pressure on the regime limiting access to credit,” he said. “We also need to restore internet access for people to be able to communicate with them so the outside world can see what is happening in Cuba and especially if the world sees what they are doing about the repression in Cuba and how they are instilling fear in their own people.”

Gimenez, a former Miami-Dade Mayor, was born in Cuba and came to the U.S. in 1960 at the age of six.

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He said his father worked for the U.S. State Department and processed thousands of Cuban refugees who came through the Freedom Tower.

Peter D'Oench