Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, but the special election to be held here next Tuesday has many people wondering if the laws of physics and politics have been temporarily conjoined. On Election Day, Florida’s Cuban Americans will go to the polls twice—once to vote for America’s next president, and again to determine Cuba’s.
The so-called elecciónextraordinaria y democracia in absentia is the brainchild of Jorge Menos Canosa, a prosperous leader of the Cuban expatriate community in Miami and, like most of his countrymen who arrived in Florida after the revolution, a fierce opponent of the Castro regime. He gained prominence in 1971 when he flew a blimp festooned with anti-Castro slogans over a soccer game outside Havana. He barely eluded the Cuban MiG fighters that were scrambled to shoot him down.
As he told TheMiami Herald last summer, the idea of holding Cuba’s first democratic election—in the United States—came to him “between three and four in the morning,” during a “very robust” night of celebrating following the death of Ramon Castro, Fidel’s younger brother, who succeeded Fidel after his recent death.
“We were sitting around discussing what should happen, when it came to us—why leave it to them?” Canosa told a visitor recently, while sitting on the deck of his expansive home overlooking the Everglades, chewing on an unlit (Dominican) Montecristo cigar. “To be candid: What do they know at this point? They’ve been living in a totalitarian dictatorship since 1959,” he said. “Here in Florida, we have abundant experience with democracy. We know how to run elections. Okay, in 2000, a Democrat almost won. But,” he added, lighting the cigar, “as you saw, we took care of that.”
Canosa, whose name appears on the ballot, discounts personal ambition. “I’m eighty-one,” he said. “I’m wealthy. I’m not so eager to live in some porquería—roughly, dump—“of a presidential ‘palace’ that hasn’t had new plumbing since the ’50s. But maybe it’s time to give something back. Like my American grandchildren would say, Whatever. Anyway, I’m on the ballot. But there are other candidates to choose from.”
Seventeen other candidates, to be precise. According to the latest poll, the front-runner is Jaime Perfecto Jiménez, a billionaire duty-free entrepreneur, who has vowed if elected to personally execute all associates of Fidel and Ramon Castro. (“With my own pistol.”)
At the other end of the spectrum is Fulminacio García y López, who has pledged to increase the daily minimum wage in Cuba to $1 a day, up from thirty cents. Doctors, engineers, and lawyers would get salary increases to $5 a day, and a chicken on religious feast days.
Exactly how the winner might actually take office is unclear. Jiménez, who on weekends conducts military-style maneuvers with a brigade of like-minded compatriots in the Everglades, says he has an army “equipped and ready to assert my presidency.” Canosa, for his part, has already been arrested and prosecuted several times for violating the Overthrow of Foreign Governments Act, but each time has been acquitted thanks to the ag‑ gressive tactics of his attorney, Roy Black, whose other clients have included William Kennedy Smith and Rush Limbaugh.