A Setback for the Castro Deathwatch
Monday, Apr. 23, 2007
By TIM PADGETT/MIAMI
The new photographs must inspire almost supernatural dread among Miami's Cuban exiles. There was Fidel Castro, out of his sickbed sturdily receiving Chinese diplomats in Havana. The pictures were printed in the communist government's mouthpiece, Granma — complete with indications that he was back in control and that any economic and administrative reforms his brother Raul may have been planning are now on indefinite hold. Once again, Fidel Castro has become the undead antagonist of Miami's Cuban exiles, who must now feel as though their lives have become a chapter of Dracula, with no stake available to end the vampire's curse. "This novel has too many false endings," says Rafael Lima, a University of Miami communications professor and the son of an exile once imprisoned by Castro.
But could Fidel's protracted exit actually be a good thing? It may give the second generation of exiles a chance to strategize a more effective transitional role on the island once Fidel passes from the scene. The older generation is exhausted and despondent with the long wait for Castro's departure. Meanwhile, the younger generation is beginning to see the impracticality of its parents' obsessions — their insistence on utter non-engagement with communist Cuba as well as their assumption that as soon as Fidel dies they can hop into speedboats and reclaim the homes, businesses and lives they lost to Castro's 1959 revolution.
One gauge of the waning influence of the hardline exiles may be found in a new Florida International University poll out this month. According to the survey, a majority of Cuban-Americans in Miami, more than 55%, favor unrestricted travel to Cuba — a stunning increase. The trend flies in the face of the Bush Administration's recent tightening of those travel restrictions, which are designed to please the once politically powerful hard-line exile bloc that helped the President win Florida in 2000. And that has raised expectations that travel to and at least limited trade with the island will start up again after Bush leaves office in 2009, as will more diplomatic engagement with both the government and Cuba's pro-democracy dissidents.
The shift in the exile community has many causes. One is political weariness among the older generation. Says Lima, "A collective sense of fatigue and hopelessness has begun to set in among many here." Increasingly, expatriate Cubans are coming to realize that even after Fidel dies, his brother Raul, 75, will still rule the country; and, furthermore, for many impoverished Cubans on the island, the only thing less popular than Fidel himself are the hard-line Miami exiles, whom they blame in large part for U.S. policies like the 45-year-old trade embargo against the country.
But rather than indicating a triumph for Castro, the moderates insist that a new Cuban-American direction would instead reflect a more mature sense of how to deal with him and his regime, especially since Castro has long used the embargo as a scapegoat for his own economic disasters. "The Cuban-American community has not always been known for its tolerance of dissenting opinions," says Lima, "and that intolerance has always played into Fidel's hands."
The limits of such hardline views were evident in January when exile leaders announced plans to hold a party in Miami's Orange Bowl when Fidel does die — complete with salsa bands, commemorative T-shirts and confetti-splashed global TV coverage. They were responding partly to comments by left-wing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, an ardent Fidel amigo, that Fidel might not have long to live. But analysts now agree that that "health alert" was likely a Havana ruse — that Chavez and Fidel simply wanted to see how Miami would react to such remarks. When the macabre Orange Bowl idea provoked international condemnation, Fidel popped up on video giving Chavez abrazos, looking frail but heartier than he had after his operation in July 2006.
That's part and parcel of how politicized Castro's health has become on both sides of the Florida Straits. Not to mention dangerous for your computer: lately a spam e-mail with the subject "Castro Is Dead" has infected thousands of operating systems with a virus. It adds just one more insult to injury for Cuban-Americans whose vampire just won't die.
JG: I propose renaming the "Castro is Dead virus" as the comemierdas virus.