MIAMI – The official word in Cuba is that Fidel Castro is still very much alive — but you'd never know that on the streets of Miami.
Premature rumors of Castro's death are a staple in this heavily Cuban-exile city. But their frequency has intensified in recent days after his 81st birthday came and went Aug. 13 with neither pictures, letters nor recordings from him.
Friday, the rumors were pushed into overdrive by a meeting of local officials to go over their plans for when Castro really dies and a road closure in the Florida Keys that was actually due to a police standoff.
A circular game ensued with radio stations reporting the rumors, citing TV stations, which cited the rumors on the street.
Sandra Avila, an executive at a design firm in Miami's Coconut Grove neighborhood, said clients and vendors called all day asking about the rumors.
"I've heard the rumors before, but there's a different feeling this time, like this time it's real," she said.
The rumor mill took off a year ago when the Cuban leader announced he would turn power over to his brother Raul because of an intestinal illness. Since then, Castro, who has ruled Cuba for nearly 48 years, has not been seen in public.
Even celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, a Cuban-American who normally deals with Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, jumped into the fray Friday, writing that sources were saying the Miami police were poised to announce Castro's death.
Never mind the question of why the Miami police department and not the Havana government or, at least, the U.S. State Department would let the world know.
In Cuba, officials remained tightlipped about Castro's condition.
"Fidel is doing very well and is disciplined in his recovery process," Cuban foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told reporters in Brazil on Thursday. Perez Roque insisted Castro maintains "permanent" contact with members of the government party in Cuba.
On official Cuban television, there was no hint of trouble Friday. A rerun of the hit NBC series "Friends" played late in the afternoon.
To steal a title from Nobel prize-winning Colombian author and Castro friend, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the last two weeks have been a nonstop "Chronicle of a Death Foretold."
"For us it's not so much the waiting for the death of a person," said Joanna Burgos, spokeswoman for the Miami-based Raices of Esperanza, a nonpartisan youth group that advocates for a free and democratic Cuba.
"It's much more the waiting for the opportunity for young people on the island to have a chance to live freely, and hopefully that might give them an open door to do so."