I welcome the opportunity of having anyone assassinate Fidel Castro and any other leader that is oppressing the people. --GOP Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, of Miami, interviewed in 2006 for the British documentary 638 Ways to Kill Castro
Fidel Castro is dying. Or perhaps he is already dead. That, at least, was the rumor in Little Havana over the past several months, where reports that the health of the comandante en jefe was improving were treated with skepticism.
Premature predictions of Castro's death have been a mainstay of Miami's rumor mill since long before last July, when the Cuban government announced that the elder Castro had transferred power temporarily to his younger brother Raul. Cuban-Americans who first heard "news" of Castro's expiration in elementary school are now receiving their AARP cards. Countless Castro opponents who anticipated Fidel's death have preceded him to the grave.
The demise of Fidel Castro has been part of the Cuban exile imagination for a long time, as evidenced in such works as León Ichaso's 1996 film Bitter Sugar, which culminates in an abortive assassination attempt. That is especially the case for early 1960s and '70s exiles, among them Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and her parents, who consider themselves part of el exilio histórico (el exilio histérico to its critics). Identifying with this exilio histórico signifies a hard-line position as much as time of arrival. Upon hearing of Castro's serious illness, some of these exiles lamented the possibility that he might die of natural causes rather than being executed. "I would have liked to kill that man to set an example for future generations," said Orlando Bosch, the man many hold mainly responsible for the terrorist downing of a Cubana Airlines passenger plane in 1976, which killed seventy-three people, to a reporter last August, when asked whether he was "relieved or frustrated" that Castro was seriously ill. "The prospect that he will die in bed really upsets me."
What is really happening in the exile capital now that Castro no longer wields absolute power in Havana and his death might no longer be just wishful thinking but a real possibility?
After the round of noisy, if lightly attended, celebrations in Miami after the July 31 announcement of Castro's turnover of power, an eerie calm seems to have settled in. That is largely because an orderly succession in Cuba has already occurred. The popular uprising hoped for by many has not materialized.
"They are depressed. They are in shock," said Alfredo Durán, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion and the former chair of the Florida Democratic Party. Durán, who has long advocated dialogue and an end to the embargo, was kicked out of the Bay of Pigs veterans' organization for his views. He says that hard-line exiles "never imagined that a transfer of power could take place while Castro is still alive. Now they don't have the slightest idea what to do."
Yet it would be wrong to mistake a temporary psychological setback for a definitive defeat or to underestimate the hard-liners' power, which has never been greater. It is true that the community has never been monolithic and that more recent arrivals and second- and third-generation Cuban-Americans hold more centrist attitudes on such topics as the embargo and travel to the island; but the conclusion many have derived from these facts--that the Cuban-American community is moving toward political moderation--is at best only half right.
The truth is there are two contradictory trends in the US Cuban community: one involving people, the other grounded in power. The people curve indeed arcs toward the center, but it is long and slow. The power curve has been moving swiftly in the opposite direction. The moderates are growing in number, and their voice is louder today than when dissent in Miami was met with bombs. But meanwhile, the hard-liners have been accumulating power and driving US Cuba policy further right, with a major assist from a President who believes in using US power to change regimes and export democracy. While the Cuban-American community as a whole is slowly drifting toward moderation, its hard-line political elite has become entrenched in the most powerful American institutions.