BY OSCAR CORRAL | Miami Herald
Sometime in the future, word will hit the streets in Miami: Cuban leader Fidel Castro is dead.
Yes, parties will erupt spontaneously in many neighborhoods. Yes, tears will flow and rum bottles stashed in cupboards for that ‘‘special occasion’’ will be opened.
But, as is typical in an area accustomed to preparing for emergencies such as hurricanes and mass migrations from Cuba or Haiti, plans are being drawn at the highest levels of business and government in Miami-Dade County to deal with the potential mayhem that may erupt the day Castro dies, as well as the weeks and months that will follow.
The University of Miami—in coordination with the American Red Cross of Greater Miami and the Keys and a slew of nonprofit groups and local, state and federal agencies—has completed what officials say is the most comprehensive plan ever put together in Miami to prepare for the critical days following the death of Cuba’s communist leader, who will turn 80 this year.
The greatest fear among the planning organizations is another mass migration along the lines of the Mariel boatlift in 1980 or the 1994 balsero crisis. Much of the report is dedicated to planning for such an event, such as assigning a county official as the point person and assigning specific tasks to deal with migrants.
The plan proposes a central website for everything everyone needs to know about a post-Castro era.
This is by no means the first or only plan drafted by an agency or organization to deal with a post-Castro Cuba. Several government agencies have secret plans already drafted, said Eric Driggs, a researcher for UM’s Cuba Transition Project, which is the federally funded branch of its Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.
Driggs said he did not have access to federal plans classified as secret for national security purposes when drafting this report.
However, representatives of federal agencies alerted the group to certain details, he said.
Miami-Dade, at least in the short term, would likely become engulfed in the emotions of an event almost five decades in the making, the report states.
At that point, as jubilation, chaos, demonstrations or a mixture of all three spread across the county, someone would need to take charge.
‘‘There is no doubt that when Fidel Castro dies, a series of events will start in Cuba that will be super important for Miami-Dade County,’’ said Teo Babun, who chaired the subcommittee for coordinating relief aid to Cuba in the event of Castro’s death.
The Cuba Transition Project drafted the report after two years of meetings among agencies such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Homeland Security, the Red Cross, Miami-Dade’s Office of Emergency Management and Miami-Dade Public Schools.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez said Castro’s death will have unpredictable consequences, but the county is preparing diligently nonetheless.
‘‘No one can predict exactly what will happen following the death of Fidel Castro,’’ Alvarez said in a written statement. ``However, I can assure the residents of Miami-Dade County that detailed plans are in place which take into account every possible scenario.’‘
WHAT TO EXPECT
So what can people expect in Miami-Dade upon news of Castro’s death?
• The county’s Office of Emergency Management, which coordinates governmental services during disasters such as hurricanes, would immediately mobilize. Its top priority would be to monitor celebrations, vigils and demonstrations.
• The county would dedicate its 311 line to community information on Cuba.
• An alliance of private groups and public agencies—which have already been identified—would come together to prepare for the transportation, storage and tracking of donated aid to Cuba.
‘‘The only reason for this is to help the community to be ready for it,’’ said Marielena Villamil, a Red Cross board member who spearheaded the plan. ``I think [the government] just doesn’t want it to be a free-for-all. They don’t want it to get out of hand.’‘
The government is prepared for the worst, said Carlos Castillo, assistant fire chief for Miami-Dade County who chaired the subcommittee to coordinate local response. If officials believe news of Castro’s death could trigger a mass migration of exiles to Cuba, they could shut down the main points of entry and exit.
‘‘The Coast Guard will take whatever action is necessary to protect the coast,’’ he said. ``As far as the airport and port of Miami, the county and federal governments will take whatever steps necessary to ensure the safety of the people in South Florida. If necessary, the federal government has the ability to close the airports and seaports.’‘
During the Mariel boatlift in 1980, when about 120,000 Cuban migrants arrived in Miami over a six-month period, Cuban exiles triggered the mass migration by taking to the Florida Straits to bring over relatives and friends.
Babun, director of the AmericasRelief Team and Echo Cuba, two nonprofit groups that focus on humanitarian aid, said that both federal law and Cuba’s government place many limits on humanitarian aid to the island.
But he believes the federal government could take immediate steps in the event of Castro’s death to make it easier to ship humanitarian aid. He said Cuba makes it difficult for the U.S. government to allow aid to flow in because the Cuban government controls almost all distribution of foreign aid.
‘‘Because Florida is the largest Cuban-American diaspora community in the United States, the outpouring of offers to assist may be overwhelming,’’ the report states.
The report notes it’s important to coordinate the agencies in charge of aid now because ``ad hoc citizen response to a crisis in Cuba has historically proven itself to be a severe complication, as well as one that potentially endangers lives.’‘
The report ends on a positive note.
‘‘Cuban Americans may play a major role in Cuba’s rebuilding efforts because of their commitment to their native country,’’ it states. ``Educating Cuban-American and Floridian volunteers to become an essential component in this process will help foster unity.’‘