Every once in a while I need a little reminder of how and why Miami is the dumbest, most beaver-shit crazy place on earth. Thankfully, the city's Cuban exile community and the local political leaders beholden to it -- the ones not under investigation, under indictment or currently in prison -- always come through for me like gangbusters. Their psychotic reaction anytime someone mentions the name Fidel Castro without including the words "pure evil" in the same sentence is as predictable in South Florida as afternoon thundershowers and cockroaches the size of Volkswagens.
The Huffington Post: Miami Marlins Manager Suspended for Comments About Fidel Castro/4.10.12
As much as I really do love and appreciate my hometown, it's moments like these that I'm glad I'm not there. And that serve as a really sad reminder that almost six years after this piece was first published here, it still holds up rather well.
"High Fidel-ity" (Originally Published 8.3.06)
As I've mentioned from time to time, I come from what is arguably the dumbest place on Earth.
For years, I tried in vain to alert the world outside Miami to the kind of unbridled insanity going on inside Miami. I'm pretty sure that I can say without fear of contradiction that the handful of decent minds who call the city home often feel like the spouse of a seemingly loving but secretly abusive husband: in a perpetual cycle of vicious beatings followed by quiet dinners with the neighbors who would never in a million years believe the truth. "Oh, but he's just so nice. He can't really be a complete sociopath," they'd say to each other later, after they had left the house, gone home, and unknowingly enabled the next beat-down.
No one would believe that Miami regularly behaved as if it were the only Third World country on American soil -- that is until Thanksgiving of 1999, and the arrival of a kid named Elian Gonzalez.
What followed -- although painful in its complete lack of logic or reason -- was what I had waited for my entire life up to that point. The crowds of crazies gathered; the circus started; the world watched. For the first time in my lifetime, television cameras and satellite trucks gave Miami a window to the world, and allowed everyone else to see what I'd known for years: the place is fucking nuts.
At the core of this lunacy, is one man; he's a man who you, like most people, have probably gone your whole life without ever giving a second thought to.
So let me ask you a question: Do you care about Fidel Castro?
I didn't think so.
Unfortunately, Miami cares about little else. In Miami, Castro is a constant, all-consuming presence. He's a demonic force which can never be exorcised. He's a boogeyman who, despite his old age and inability to keep the electricity on in most of his own country, is credited with everything from placing "spies" in top positions of local government, to knocking certain TV and radio stations off the air, to backing-up your toilet. He's a bearded devil who's been elevated to near-mythic status by a vocal group of hair-trigger hot-heads who still call themselves "exiles," despite the fact that their forced migration happened to land them in the wealthiest country on the planet -- one that's never demanded a thing from them and in which they've consistently thrived. I cannot stress in strong enough words the impact that Fidel Castro has on almost every facet of life in Miami.
During Elian, the derangement reached such outlandish levels that it caused some to practice what they called "civil disobedience" -- lying down in front of cars on causeways and backing-up traffic to make their point. City and county leaders also thought it a good idea to create their own foreign policy, refusing to cooperate with federal agents or anyone else who dared think about forcibly removing Elian from the hourly Little Havana dog-and-pony show, sponsored in-part by the City of Miami Chamber of Commerce and Gus Machado Ford.
When bands from Cuba have had the complete lack of common sense to stop in Miami, they've been met with death threats and violent protests from crowds of people who are too fucking dense to realize that by censoring the arts, they're performing a near-perfect impression of the man they hate to the point of madness.
At one point, the simplest way to win a local election in Miami was to go on WQBA -- the cleverly-monikered voice of intolerant conjecture for all of Dade County -- and tell its audience of highly-suggestible zombies that your opponent was, in fact, a communist. Let me say that again so that it can sink in: in an American city, not only would you not be laughed out of town -- but you could win a city councilman's seat, by calling someone a communist. Why Joe McCarthy never retired to Miami is beyond me.
And of course, anytime anyone has dared to suggest an end to the worthless embargo against Castro's Cuba, it's been advisable that he or she be wearing something akin to Kevlar. Never mind the fact that the rationale behind the sanctions was disproven decades ago. Put it another way: If your home were on fire with your family trapped inside, would you pull at a locked door for an hour, or at some point would you attempt to find another way in? Now imagine pulling at that door for 48 fucking years.
I could go on; believe me when I tell you that there are enough examples of this kind of absurdity to fill the Orange Bowl.
Based on all of this, it's no surprise that the news of Fidel's unprecedented ceding of power to his brother turned the streets of Miami into one big block-party. There was screaming and honking of horns. There was Cuban flag-waving. There were people dancing in the streets -- a combination of old folks who romanticize a pre-Castro Cuba, and kids who've simply spent their entire lives having the religion of Castro-as-Lucifer drilled into their heads. I challenge you to name a bigger party for an impending death that didn't also involve the public execution and dragging-through-the-streets of royalty. In Miami, the possibility of Castro's demise reverberates inside the echo-chamber like the trumpets of the gods.
Outside of Miami, though?
Once again, do you care?
With all that's going on in the world -- all of the threats from people who don't play by the normal rules; who don't safely follow the paradigm of an aging tyrant who wants nothing more than to keep himself in power; who are true believers and whose only wish is to be rewarded in the next life -- isn't Castro sort of, well, so 1980s?
As the Fidel deathwatch continues in Miami, and local and national politicians scramble to appease the city's powerful voting bloc by spouting silly, antiquated hardline rhetoric, the rest of the nation goes about its business, ambivalent to the circus in the south, completely unaffected by its craziness.
Couldn't be happier to be a part of that nation.
Adding: Salon is now running a piece that pretty much echoes what I'm saying here, albeit in a much less astringent manner. The salient quote: "If Guillen only loses his job for expressing admiration for Fidel's toughness, it will be a sign of civic progress. Not long ago, he might have lost his legs or his life." The column runs down in detail the Cuban exile community's long history of intolerance, censorship and outright violence directed at those who dare to say or do something it deems as a group is somehow pro-Castro. Is every Cuban-American like this? No, of course not. Is Castro a despicable murderer? Yeah, very much so. But check out the link in the middle of the piece -- the one to the story by Jim Mullin, formerly of the Miami New Times -- and tell me the overall attitude of Miami's hardline anti-Castro crowd has been one of sanity and respect for the law and for differing opinions.