Monday, January 29, 2007

When Castro dies, party's on

Posted on Mon, Jan. 29, 2007

When Castro dies, party's on
The city of Miami plans to respond to Fidel Castro's death -- whenever
that may be -- with a celebration at the Orange Bowl.

One day, very possibly one day soon, ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro
will die -- and a nascent committee sponsored by the city of Miami wants
to be ready.

So it's planning a party.

The event, still in the very early planning stage, would be held in
Little Havana's Orange Bowl stadium -- and might include commemorative
T-shirts, a catchy slogan and bands that will make your hips shake.

The stadium is a bittersweet landmark in South Florida's Cuban-American
experience. After the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco, more than 35,000 exiles
gathered there to hear President John F. Kennedy promise a free Cuba.

Decades later, the bowl served as a camp for Mariel refugees.

City Commissioner Tomás Regalado, a Cuban American, came up with the
idea of using the venue for an event timed to Castro's demise.

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

Despite that statement, Regalado, along with other organizers, prefers
to think of it as a celebration of the end of communism -- whether or
not that is triggered by Castro's death -- as opposed to a large-scale
tap-dancing session on someone's grave. Regalado compares it to the fall
of the Berlin Wall.

The city created the citizens committee that is planning the event
earlier this month. When the still-unnamed panel met for the first time
last week, Castro's death was nowhere to be found on the meeting agenda.
The meeting was officially -- and ambiguously -- advertised under the
title, ``Committee Meeting for an Event at the Orange Bowl.''

Its purpose, according to the city's website: ``Discuss an event at the
Orange Bowl in case expected events occur in Cuba.''


At that meeting, committee member and former state Rep. Luis Morse
stressed the need for an uplifting, forward-looking theme for the party
-- one not preoccupied with a human being's passing. The committee
discussed including such a theme on T-shirts that would be made by
private vendors for the event.

Plenty of details have to be sorted out: What musicians would perform?
The city hopes entertainers will donate their services. How long will
the event last? Hours? Days? And how much will it cost?

Performance stages require time to be set up, and a security guard
company has already told Miami officials it requires 24 hours' notice
before being able to work the stadium. A gap of a day or two between
Castro's death and the Orange Bowl event is possible.

And before printing themed T-shirts, Miami has to actually decide what
the theme is. It's still working on that one.

''That has to be done with a lot of sensitivity,'' Morse said.
``Somebody needs to be a very good wordsmith.''

The stadium plan, though in its infancy, already has drawn criticism
from callers on Spanish-language radio who complain Miami is dictating
to Cuban Americans where they should experience one of the most
intensely dramatic moments of their lives.

Regalado stresses that folks will still be free to spend their time on
Calle Ocho -- the cultural heart of Little Havana and a location viewed
more fondly by many exiles -- or anywhere else for that matter.

''This is not a mandatory site,'' he said of the Orange Bowl. ``Just a
place for people to gather.''

Ramón Saúl Sánchez, leader of the Miami-based Democracy Movement
organization, worries about how a party would be perceived by those
outside the exile community. He stressed that Castro's death will prompt
a whole range of emotions among Cubans -- not just joy.


''The notion of a big party, I think, should be removed from all this,''
Sánchez said. ``Although everybody will be very happy that the dictator
cannot continue to oppress us himself, I think everybody is still very
sad because there are still prisons full of prisoners, many people
executed, and families divided.''

Rather than partying, Sánchez would rather see the post-Castro focus be
on improving conditions for those still on the island. If an Orange Bowl
event must happen, Sánchez would like to see it in the form of a
''protest concert'' heavy on positive messages.

Regalado, meanwhile, envisions the stadium -- as opposed to Versailles
restaurant or some other tried-and-true landmark -- becoming the
operations hub for the hordes of media expected to descend upon Miami:
images of a thumping, pulsating, euphoric Orange Bowl beamed to
televisions across the globe.

''It's helping a community celebrate,'' he said. ``We can't stop the
celebrations. We just want to help.''

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