Adiós, Fidel

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Does anyone in the shop ever bring up Castro?

Well, one of the barbers is Cuban, but if he tries to talk politics, the others just tell him to stuff it. Motioning toward the lone Cuban in a crowd of 20 Hispanics, Padín says: "He doesn't really care because he grew up here. He's accepted the situation."

Instead, the men like to chat about women and who's driving what car, Padín summarizes, pointing proudly at his shiny new silver Mercedes sedan.

Contrary to popular belief, most Cuban-Americans in South Florida don't feel the need to meddle in Cuban affairs. Several generations have now spent the majority of or their entire lives here, so they feel no right to claim anything back on the island. According to a recent survey conducted by Coral Gables-based Hispanic opinion pollster Bendixen and Associates, 67 percent of Cuban-Americans in South Florida think property in Cuba belongs to the people living in or otherwise using those buildings and land today. Just 20 percent feel that the assets should go to those who have property titles predating Fidel Castro's revolution.

Also, four out of five of the 600 Cuban-Americans living in Miami-Dade and Broward counties that Bendixen surveyed in September say that, if given the option of returning to a free and democratic Cuba, they'd stay here.

This ambivalence comes as no surprise to Juan Serio, a 40-year-old travel agent from Maracaibo, Venezuela. Maybe it's because Serio lives in Delray Beach, 60 miles north of Miami, or maybe it's because he's part of a younger generation, but he says the Cuban-Americans he knows have completely detached from their homeland. "They don't even talk about Castro," he notes. With the warmth of a salesman, Serio chuckles good-naturedly at the idea of a drastic shift in Cuba once Castro passes away. "It's going to be the same, whether he's there or not. It's not just him — it's a whole government."

South Florida made it through the July announcement of Fidel's handing power over to his brother Raúl without a slew of Cuban-Americans launching boats into the water to visit their homelands or carry cousins back to U.S. shores. "We've already had a dress rehearsal of sorts," asserts Phil Peters, an economist with the Lexington Institute in D.C. who visited Cuba in December. "When Fidel fell sick, the only thing that happened in Miami was some dancing in front of Versailles."

Yes, there was flag-waving and horn-honking in front of the Cuban café on Calle Ocho in Little Havana — which might more aptly be called Little Bogotá these days — and local television stations cut off regular prime-time programming to flash coverage of the small-scale celebration and inform all of South Florida that Fidel was sick. Thanks for that news flash.

Some folks in Miami are still gearing up for what they expect to be a massive outpouring of emotions the day el comandante leaves this Earth.

Sánchez, of Democracia, expects many in his 26,000-strong network to participate in a civil rights demonstration in Little Havana. The march is aimed at creating an environment for exiles to channel their energy in "a constructive, solemn manner."

In an effort to put a positive slant on the inevitable community reaction, Democracia has drafted a list of suggested slogans for people to brandish. One states, in Spanish: "Cuba had one bad son, but there have always been more good ones."

"OK, so there will be this big party and the next day, what?" asks Domingo Amuchastegui, a former Cuban intelligence officer who defected in 1994. "Cuba will be the same. You're going to celebrate the death of one person?"

If insiders like Amuchastegui are right, Fidel's long-awaited demise will be seriously anticlimactic. He'll die, a very rich old man, in his own bed. Leaders across much of Latin America — especially Fidel's buddy Chávez in Venezuela — will make some poignant comments. The funeral procession could outdo that of Princess Diana of Wales, and then the media hordes will have lost another colorful character to cover. Florida politicians will have to find a new monster to galvanize voters.

And the already diluted exile community will have to find other talking points for its cause.

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Amy Guthrie
Contact: Amy Guthrie