The news that Miami city officials are planning on throwing a big bash to dance on Fidel Castro's grave went over like a lead balloon here.
The idea of reserving the Orange Bowl, selling souvenir tee shirts and dancing to salsa bands is being construed as both inappropriate and insensitive. And no matter how hard Miami officials insist the Orange Bowl event is meant to ensure people's safety and won't be a party, Cubans here don't believe it.
Surprisingly, Cuba's government-run press has refrained from reporting the news item. Normally this is the sort of thing political pundits here milk as headlines for days. The silence is perhaps due to the nature of the story: the imminent death of El Comandante.
Heard through the grapevine
But, like most things Miami, people learned about it here through the grapevine.
Lester Ramos, a cab driver, listens to Miami disc jockeys that bleed onto Cuba's AM dial. That's where he learned his near-perfect English.
"The guy's not even dead," said Ramos, shaking his head. "It's unbelievable."
Like many Cubans, the father of three supports changes in his country—primarily to open the economy to lighten his load. He refuses though to take the next step and think about political change, maybe through fear of the unknown. "I really don't have a problem with the government, but this economy has got to go."
The news that Miami will officially celebrate Castro's death also tripped off the tongues of relatives phoning from across the Florida Straits. "My sister told me," explained Ivet Lopez, a pediatric emergency-room nurse who speaks to her Hialeah family on a regular basis. "And I told her that's no way to live — waiting for somebody to die."
Not everyone here pays attention to politics. "Fidel doesn't affect me one way or another," said a 20-year-old college student who declined to give his full name for fear of retribution from the government and his father, a career military officer. He expressed a sense of apathy many in his generation feel — despite a concerted effort by the government to involve young Cubans in the one-party political system. "My only concern is school."
Castro supporters miffed
Not so with Castro's supporters, who were particularly offended.
For historian Tomas Diaz the news reinforces all his prejudices against the city of Miami, home to tens of thousands of Cuban exiles. "It's inhuman to celebrate someone's death, but what can you expect? That's Miami politics — an exercise in bad taste!"
Even Miriam Leyva, a leading dissident and one of Fidel Castro's fiercest critics, found the idea of a party "inappropriate," cautioning that it will drive a further wedge between Cubans here and the diaspora in the United States.
"Death is not something to celebrate. You can understand that some people will feel good about the news, but we should be working on reconciliation between all Cubans living on and off the island. The time to hold a party is when there's democracy in Cuba."
Reverend Juan Ramon de la Paz, who presides over the Episcopal Cathedral in Havana, agreed. "To organize these parties is anti-Christian, anti-Evangelical, and anti-religious. There is no religion that celebrates someone's death, even your enemy's death."
El Comandante scuttles rumors
Castro himself sent a message that the party planning may be a bit premature.
Video that ran on Cuban television Tuesday night and allegedly shot the afternoon before showed him standing, smiling and chatting with Venezuelan ally Hugo Chavez.
VIDEO: Cuban state television shows a video of Fidel Castro meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
"As I have said, this is far from being a lost battle," Castro declared, looking slightly stronger than in the last images his government released three months ago.
Without a doubt, he remains thin and frail some six months after undergoing emergency surgery to stop an intestinal bleed. According to sources on the island, he presently faces at least six months of physical therapy before he can begin to resume his public life—barring any additional setbacks.