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The World Series of Miami politics

The partying went on late into the night. Come Monday morning there were plenty of absentees from work and heavy-eyed schoolchildren in the classrooms.

So much to celebrate.

South Florida has its newest sporting heroes. Sunday night the Florida Marlins pulled off a dramatic seventh-game, come-from-behind victory to become baseball's world champions.

But this is Miami. So behind all the jubilation there was the politics, both local and international. Never before, perhaps, has so much politics been pitched in a World Series.

Cuban politics, municipal politics, stadium politics . . . this game had it all.

For the most part, South Florida's multi-ethnic and often divided community appeared to unite in a peaceful celebration of its champions. Hispanics, African-Americans and Anglos had something to cheer about. Thousands of fans remained outside Pro Player Stadium for hours after the game ended, hoping to catch a glimpse of the players, waving placards and snapping up "World Champion" T-shirts.

Fans thronged the streets, honking car horns and banging pots and pans in Little Havana, heart of Miami's 600,000-strong Cuban community, until the early hours of the morning.

At the Versailles restaurant, a popular eatery on Calle Ocho, Cuban-born couple Raul de Quesada and Alina Donnell were still soaking it in at lunchtime Monday. "It was quite incredible," said Donnell, who was wearing a Marlins World Series T-shirt. The couple arrived at the stadium at 4 p.m. Sunday for four hours of tailgating before the first pitch. After the game, they partied on Calle Ocho until 3:30 a.m. "It's a very unifying event for a much-maligned community," said de Quesada, an Eckerd College graduate.

City officials announced a parade for the team this morning in downtown Miami and another in Fort Lauderdale in the afternoon, followed by a stadium rally in the evening.

Students at Whispering Pines Elementary, where classwork was geared to the World Series for the last week, were in a state of shock Monday morning, according to assistant principal Mario Fernandez. "We have a lot of sleepy kids and a lot of sleepy teachers," he said. To round off the baseball theme, students have been instructed to wear Marlins uniforms to school today. They will also celebrate with a special cake, iced in teal.

In Barranquilla, the Colombian port-city home to Marlins star Edgar Renteria, who had Sunday night's winning hit, the mayor declared Monday a national holiday.

All day in the poor neighborhood of Montecristo, where Renteria's family lives, people celebrated to the traditional beat of hollow wood-and-skin drums.

But in Miami politicians were already scheming.

Most of South Florida _ as well as parts of the Caribbean and Latin America _ were content just to bathe in the beauty of the moment.

For Cuban exiles it was a poke in the eye of Fidel Castro, Cuba's No. 1 baseball fan. The series Most Valuable Player was Livan Hernandez, the 22-year-old pitcher who defected from Cuba's national team 2{ years ago.

Hardline exile radio commentators describe his feat less in baseball terms than as a symbol of the cause of a "free" Cuba versus the "slavery" of Castro's rule. "We stole Hernandez from Castro," said Sonya Garcia. "He's not Castro's anymore, he's ours."

When Hernandez's mother, stranded in Cuba, was given an emergency U.S. visa to travel to Miami for Sunday's game, some Cuban exiles grumbled. Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles offered his help to try to persuade Cuba to allow her to leave. In the end, the Cuban government was swayed by a letter signed by her son's teammates.

"Her case is not an emergency. How dare Gov. Chiles and our government consider it so?" wrote Rebeca Ceijas in a letter to the Miami Herald. Ceijas' ailing cousin, Greta Caride, waited more than 3{ years for her father to be allowed to come to Miami and donate a kidney to save her life.

In another letter, AIDS sufferer Nelson Cantillo was equally outraged by the "different treatment" he has received. "All I ask is that my 73-year-old mother be allowed to visit me so that we can say our goodbyes," he wrote. "It's too bad that one has to be a celebrity or a millionaire for the wheels of justice to turn."

The Hernandez story has also caught the imagination of candidates engaged in a bitter mayoral election race in Miami. The two leading contenders have sought to hitch their campaign fortunes to the team's success, with promises of a new stadium and more championships.

Joe Carollo, the incumbent, lured Hernandez to City Hall last week to be awarded the keys to the city. Hernandez accordingly made some complimentary remarks about Miami and Carollo, only to find them used the next day as an endorsement of Carollo in paid political ads on Spanish-language radio.

"The mayor deserves to be here, (he) is a hard-working man who helps, is helping, and will continue to help the city of Miami and, well, I am with him," said Hernandez.

His agent, Juan Iglesias, protested, saying that an innocent young pitcher had been set up.

"He does not understand how ruthless local politics can be. For him, the key to the city was a huge deal," Iglesias said.

Not to be outdone, former Mayor Xavier Soarez said he had held talks with Marlins executives about a new stadium. Carollo hit back again, vowing he would build the team a fancy waterfront stadium in downtown Miami. "We want to have a (stadium) contract by the end of the year," he told WSVN-TV, the Miami Fox affiliate. "The home runs will go right into the water."

Miami political scientist Dario Moreno accuses both politicians of "trying to get what they can out of the goodwill that has been generated by the Marlins." The irony, he points out, is that "both of these guys are falling over themselves to make promises in a city that only recently was officially declared bankrupt."

Such politicking, coupled with the Marlins' success, may well play neatly into the hands of team owner Wayne Huizenga.

Despite increasing attendance 35 percent this season, Huizenga says that the team lost $34-million this year and that he will have to sell it. A new stadium is the team's only salvation, he says, preferably one with a retractable roof to keep out the rain.

But who is going to pay for it?

Huizenga is banking on World Series fever to open taxpayer wallets. It's a strategy he used successfully to persuade Broward County to build him a new ice palace for another of his teams, the Florida Panthers.

But public support may not be there. "Regardless of whose accountants you believe, the public has shown zero enthusiasm for subsidizing another sports mogul," columnist Carl Hiassen wrote in Sunday's Miami Herald.

Of course that was Sunday morning. Before the big win. Before Hernandez, the Cuban hero, swept South Florida off its feet.

Raising his MVP trophy in front of the cameras he spoke the only words of English he knows: "I love you Miami."