The Man Who Would Be Fidel

For more than fifteen years, master Castro imitator Armando Roblan has been sending up El Tirano

Whatever the film's outcome, Roblan continues to draw an enthusiastic audience for his portrayal of Fidel Castro among Calle Ocho's elderly. They don't want to know about Castro's psyche. They just want to sit back, enjoy themselves, and prove that, here in exile, they've had the last laugh. "I can do any other character, but it never has the impact of Fidel," Roblan marvels. "The same charisma that he has overflows when I mimic him. It is indisputable that he has a presence that almost no politician has. If it had only been used for our own good, but . . . ," he trails off.

For Cuban scholar Jose Antonio Evora, the appeal of Roblan's Castro is obvious. "By his own will Fidel Castro has created an image that allows him to be seen as a demigod, a hero," Evora explains. "In Cuba, every day it is confirmed that he is not a human being, because he lives apart from everyone else. He makes all the decisions and everyone must obey them. Roblan, with his imitation, makes you notice the human qualities of that demigod. His mimicry brings to Fidel the very aspects that he himself is denying -- the fact that he's human."

Roblan has meticulously studied Fidel Castro since they were both young men. Although they are not far apart in age -- Castro turns 70 this year -- Roblan looks much younger. But as the Cuban leader has grown old, Roblan's Fidel has grown old with him. The walk has changed from a pompous march to a shuffle. The voice has grown weaker. And when Castro quit smoking his famous cigars, Roblan stopped smoking them on-stage. Meanwhile the actor's initial disappointment in Castro as a politician has evolved into clear contempt. But Roblan also shows an obvious sympathy -- even fondness -- for Castro the man. "It's logical that he's tired," Roblan muses. "It's the years that he has, the problems that he has, on top of that huge activity that he's had to maintain all this time, so much traveling. I've heard that he's pretty sick, but he has doctors taking care of him." Suddenly Roblan, still seated in the lobby in his civilian clothes, starts speaking in Fidel's voice. His face sags and he grimaces, bowing his head: "He's got to be in bad shape, chica."

Having made a good part of his living at Castro's expense for so many years, Roblan runs the risk of losing his public when, as the comic has repeatedly predicted, Fidel finally falls. And yet Roblan insists that what he wants most of all is to see Castro go. "I sincerely wish it would be over once and for all, and that I wouldn't have to do him any more," he asserts. "When it's all over and there's freedom in Cuba as there should be, I'm going to debut Viva Cubano que Cay cents el Tirano (Rejoice, Cuban, the Tyrant Has Fallen).

"But while he's still there, I'm going to keep on doing him," Roblan says emphatically, his clear voice seguing into Castro's raspy whisper -- "to ridicule him.

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