The present Cuban government, headed by Ramonito Castro y Castro, a grandson of Ramon, has been quite specific about what its reaction to a takeover bid would be: Castro y Castro has promised “apocalypse like never before.” His ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, has threatened to drive supertankers loaded with oil onto Floridian reefs, “turning imperialist beaches black from Key West to Cape Cod—maybe even to Nova Scotia, depending on the Gulf Stream.”
However it plays out, this election seems sure to change the political—and perhaps even demographic—contours of Florida. “In 1980, you had the Marielistas,” says Ramon Castanetas, a columnist for Cuba Libre, the influential Spanish-language weekly, recalling the mass exodus of Cubans to the United States. “Perhaps in 2008 we’ll have the Miamistas, going the other way, only in nicer boats.”
More than 800,000 Cuban Americans live in Florida, and most are Republicans. If enough of them decide to return to Cuba, Florida will turn from a “red”—or rojo—state to a “blue”—or azul—state. With Florida’s twenty-seven electoral votes at stake, this possibility has Republicans in Washington nervous, and Democrats watering at the mouth.
When Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was asked how she would respond, as president, if millions of Cuban Americans began to cross the Gulf Stream south, she said that she was “all in favor of more democracy for Cuba, as long as Dubai isn’t allowed to operate ports there.” Republican nominee Jeb Bush, meanwhile, denied Republican anxiety about a Floridian political Doppler shift from red to blue, declaring that most Cuban Americans would want to stay put once he, as president, enacted his plan to raise federal revenues by cutting income tax rates to zero percent.
In truth, the long-term impact of this extraordinary event on the Cuban American psyche is impossible to predict with any confidence. For the past fifty years, the Cuban expatriate community has had a bona fide devil (diablo) in Fidel Castro. Their hatred for Castro and Communism has been a dynamo of energy and, to mix metaphors, the glue that has bonded them together tightly over the years. Now that the devil is gone, whither will their hatred be directed; or, will their hatred simply wither?
Sociologists who have studied the hatred patterns within the Cuban community in the United States are of two minds; even three. Sonesta-Maria Osorio, a professor of animosity at Opa-Locka Community College, says, “To paraphrase Voltaire on religion, if Castro did not exist, the Cubans would have to invent him.” She speaks of a “duality [dualidad] within the Cuban soul. On the one hand, the placid, joyful temperament—the lover and enjoyer of life, of music and dancing, cigars, women, good food: the easy-goer. Then on the other hand, you have the quick-to-reach-for-the-machine-gun-or-machete-or-Russian- missile: the not-so-easy-goer. This is the Cuban in his totality and complexity. And truthfully, it can be very scary.”
Other social observers of the Cuban experience foresee, as one puts it, “a period of intense introspection, followed by a period of spectacular turmoil—lots of explosions, a new Baghdad—followed by a period of exhaustion and more introspection, followed by a period of heavy drinking, followed by a tremendous hangover.”
Looking out over the Everglades from his deck, producing a second cigar, Jorge Menos Canosa is philosophical. “I suppose it would be something to win,” he says. “To return to Havana after all these years, to stand on the balcony in the palace and address all the people in the square and say, ‘So, muchachos, muchachas, what was all that about?’ To hear the roar of the crowd. It wouldn’t be so bad after all. On the other hand,” he says, sipping a Bacardi and Coke, “it’s not so bad right here, even with the mosquitoes and the alligators and the Democrats.”