Just Another Normal Week in Playground of the Bizarre

Article excerpt

Miami is a city whose salsa spice gives it the nickname Gateway to the Americas, along with a fruitcake image as a banana-republic-cum-lunatic-asylum.

Awkwardly walking a tightrope between a microcosmic vision of America's multicultural future and a renegade republic run by corrupt megalomaniacs, Miami has cemented its place as a playground of the bizarre over the past five months with its central role in the surreal saga of Elian Gonzalez.

Catapulted from a quiet life in rural Cuba into the Miami maelstrom, the six-year-old castaway brought the city's simmering melting pot to the boiling point, sparked by 40 years of anger over Cuba's Communist revolution and growing antipathy between Miami's Cuban exiles and the region's non-Hispanic majority.

To locals and outsiders alike, Miami has always been a little different, a city where the strange seems normal and the outrageous merely odd.

The now-famous image of heavily armed, helmeted US agents storming a private home to snatch a small boy from the arms of a family that refused to give him up may have shocked America's conscience but it was simply another 'Miami moment' in a city well known for histrionics.

Miami last leaped to the centre of the world stage in July 1997 when famous fashion designer Gianni Versace was shot to death on the front steps of his Miami Beach palazzo.

But the vision of a violent, racy hotbed of mayhem began in the early 80s when Miami was Dodge City, murder capital of the United States, where Colombian cocaine cowboys routinely shot it out with Uzis on the streets. A favourite bumper sticker of the day read: 'Thank you for not shooting.'

As drugs and refugees flowed through the city and the nearby Florida Keys in the early 1980s, US agents blockaded roads for random searches.

An outraged Key West, Miami's smaller sibling down US Route 1, staged a mock secession in protest, declared war, surrendered without firing a shot and applied tongue-in-cheek for foreign aid.

Miami's carefully cultivated image as a tourist mecca has taken a bullet or two. The Miami Vice TV series prettied up the 80s sex-and-drugs trade in pastels and palms, but often Haitian and Cuban refugees, bales of drugs and dismembered bodies wash up on the beaches.

A tourist murder spree in the early 90s was framed in the lasting image of a German mother run over by muggers in front of her children.

And in a city where most killers dispose of their victims in the wild Everglades, one left a woman's corpse under the bed in a hotel room where a German tourist spent a night before complaining to the manager about the smell. …