THE talk in the Cuban community here at parties and over lunch in recent months has turned to what life will be like in a free Cuba. A post-Castro constitution has been sketched out; business plans drafted; corporate investments lined up; Japan, Canada, and Spain are being warned that loans made to Castro's Cuba are unlikely to be repaid by a democratic government; and the words to popular songs rewritten in excitement over the prospect of a free Cuba.
The private joke is that so many Cuban-Americans are planning vacation homes in Cuba that its coastline will have to be doubled to accommodate them.
Cuban President Fidel Castro is widely seen here to be at his most vulnerable point in 31 years.
Some though are acknowledging that more than the Straits of Florida separates a generation of Cubans reared on communism from those steeped in American life.
``The Cuba we left has disappeared,'' says Carlos Perez, a businessman and leader in exile and Republican Party politics. ``Everybody knows it's going to be a mess. It's a different people, a different system.''
If Castro falls, one result is unlikely: a massive exodus of Cuban Miami back to the homeland.
Older people and recent arrivals are more likely to want to return, but most talk here of travel, trade, and business in Cuba, not of moving there.
``Probably no more than 15 to 20 percent would go back. There will be a lot of second homes,'' says Domingo Moreira, a leading member of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF).
``I wouldn't go back simply because the way I think, the way I am in the world, my education, my whole life is American,'' says Justo Sanchez, an economist who teaches at Miami Dade Community College.
If Cubans in exile have some definite ideas about how a free Cuba ought to be organized, Cubans still on the island may have some ideas of their own.
``To a very large extent the talk coming out of the exile community [of constitutions and free-trade agreements] is being greeted in Cuba with a certain amount of distress and probably humor,'' says Lisandro Perez, a Florida International University sociologist.
``A lot of redistribution in the '60s was done at the expense of those who left, so the Cubans would not be looking forward to a return to the old order,'' he says.
The exiles are sensitive to this perception and stress a spirit of love and forgiveness between Cubans inside and outside the country. That means forgiveness of old property claims as well.
The CANF broadcasts the message nightly to the island on Radio Mart'i that no one will be displaced from houses by returning owners, Mr. Moreira says. ``Our position is that there are no claims. What's done is done. This is a new day.''
But the CANF, by far the most powerful voice in the exile community, also favors the immediate shock of free enterprise and competition in a free Cuba - with a free-trade agreement with the US and an open currency system that allows any currency to be used even for paying taxes.
Cubans may not have the enthusiasm for market forces that exiles do, says Lisandro Perez, noting that the Mariel refugees who arrived in 1980 had much stronger expectations for government aid, especially health care, than they found in America.
Some exiles describe a moral distance between the more traditionalist values that Cubans have nurtured in Miami and what Mr. Sanchez calls the ``survivalist ethic'' of Cubans raised on the rhetoric of the revolution.
Carlos Perez fears that communism has created a society without moral foundation that survives by deception.
Many exiles, however, see some opportunism in their own ranks. ``I think a lot of people who may not say so see this as a possibility for some economic gain or some political gain,'' Lisandro Perez says.
Cuban human rights activist Ricardo Bofill, now living in Miami, is more optimistic. He sees a silent majority of moderates in both groups - Cubans who have never accepted the communist ideology and exiles who are not seeking revenge and revanchism.
The most controversial force in the exile community is the CANF, a group of wealthy businessmen instrumental in creating Radio Mart'i.
Carlos Perez says that after Castro, Cubans will accept participation of the exile community, but not from the foundation, because it is too closely linked to the US government.
Lisandro Perez says that the foundation is banking on the US playing a role in establishing a free Cuba. ``There's on old Cuban tradition of attaining power through American connections.''
Mr. Bofill, however, believes the foundation is a positive force, one that could help counterbalance the bureaucratic power of entrenched communists in a democratic Cuba.