When Castro dies, celebration shouldn't get official imprint

The Kickoff

January 30, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

Miami -- In the midst of the biggest party week this side of Mardi Gras, the city of Miami is planning a celebration of a very different kind that could take place at just about any time.

The Miami Herald reported in yesterday's editions that a committee sponsored by the city has begun planning an event at the Orange Bowl to coincide with the death of gravely ill Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

The Cuban exile community has been waiting a long time for the end of Castro's rule, so it's fair to assume that the day he dies, thousands of Cuban-Americans will take to the streets in a spontaneous display of joy and relief. Nobody will begrudge them that honest display of emotion, but the idea of an officially sanctioned Fidel sendoff party - if you'll pardon the expression - leaves me a little bit cold.

City officials are being careful not to call the event a party, but how else are you going to characterize an event where there will be live bands and T-shirts for sale and thousands of revelers dancing on the figurative grave of the man who has evoked their rage and hatred for half a century.

We didn't even do that for Bob Irsay.

The tentative plans - and the fact that city officials aren't even trying hard to hide them - is just another indication that Miami is an American city like no other. The Cuban influence can be felt everywhere, from the local politics to the Latin beat that pours out of the open-air nightclubs on Ocean Drive in South Beach.

The Orange Bowl festival is the brainchild of City Commissioner Tomas Regalado, a Cuban-American who does not apologize for planning to celebrate an event of tremendous significance on both sides of the Straits of Florida.

"He represents everything bad that has happened to the people of Cuba for 48 years," Regalado told the Herald. "There is something to celebrate, regardless of what happens next ... We get rid of the guy."

The prospect of Castro's passing has always evoked images of a free Cuba, but he already has ceded power to his brother Raul, who is not expected to institute democratic reforms anytime soon.

That's why some say the celebration should take the form of a rally promoting the end of the communist system rather than just the celebration of the dictator's long-awaited demise. Others, who see it through eyes that have cried for friends and relatives imprisoned or killed during the Castro regime, have no qualms about rejoicing once he's gone.

Either way, it's obvious that the anti-Castro passion that has shaped this landscape for nearly a half century remains strong enough to create a huge groundswell at the moment of his death.

Miami officials are bracing for the news, because it is sure to be met with emotional street celebrations, particularly in Little Havana.

It would take at least 24-48 hours to put together the proposed event at the nearby Orange Bowl, but the prospect of an organized, consolidated celebration might help reduce the likelihood of violence and property damage.

Castro's ill health has even complicated security preparations for the Super Bowl, because police must account for the possibility that Castro's death could be announced at a time when security resources already will be stretched to the limit.

The issue came up at a news conference yesterday with the local and federal agencies that are coordinating security for the game, and Miami-Dade police officials indicated that they are prepared for that contingency.

Somebody even asked what might happen if the news broke at halftime.

That's easy. If Prince is any kind of entertainer, he'll just make a small change in the lyrics of one of his signature tunes, and South Florida can start to party like it's 1959.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

The Peter Schmuck Show airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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