Cuba mourns death of Cas­tro

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

HA­VANA: Cuba mourned its rev­o­lu­tion­ary leader Fidel Cas­tro yes­ter­day as it pre­pared a four-day fu­neral pro­ces­sion for the gi­ant fig­ure of modern his­tory, loved by many but branded a tyrant by others. Af­ter the stunned com­mo­tion trig­gered by Satur­day’s an­nounce­ment that Cas­tro, 90, had died, yes­ter­day was set to be a day of prepa­ra­tions ahead of a flurry of events to mark his death. Stu­dents left lighted can­dles next to a por­trait of the black-bearded com­mu­nist leader dur­ing a vigil at Ha­vana Univer­sity.

A ti­tan of the 20th cen­tury who beat the odds to en­dure into the 21st, Cas­tro died late Fri­day af­ter surviving 11 US ad­min­is­tra­tions and hun­dreds of as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempts. No cause of death was given. “It is a great loss. The most im­por­tant thing is that he died when he chose, not when all the counter-rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies wanted,” said Car­los Manuel Obre­gon Ro­driguez, a 43-year-old taxi driver in Ha­vana. “It may not be painful for ev­ery­one, but it is for a lot of peo­ple. I was born un­der this revo­lu­tion and I owe Fidel a lot.”

Pres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro said his older brother’s re­mains would be cre­mated Satur­day, the first of nine days of na­tional mourn­ing. There was no of­fi­cial con­fir­ma­tion of whether that had yet hap­pened. Ha­vana was un­usu­ally quiet af­ter al­co­hol sales were re­stricted and shows and base­ball matches sus­pended. No of­fi­cial events were sched­uled yes­ter­day but a se­ries of me­mo­ri­als will be­gin to­day, when Cubans are called to con­verge on Ha­vana’s Revo­lu­tion Square.

“To­mor­row will be great. It will go down in his­tory,” Obre­gon said. Cas­tro’s ashes will then go on a four-day is­land-wide pro­ces­sion be­fore be­ing buried in the south­east­ern city of San­ti­ago on Dec 4, the govern­ment said. San­ti­ago, Cuba’s sec­ond city, was the scene of Cas­tro’s ill-fated first at­tempt at revo­lu­tion in 1953 - six years be­fore he suc­ceeded in oust­ing the US-backed dic­ta­tor Ful­gen­cio Batista.

Cas­tro ruled Cuba from 1959 with an iron fist un­til he handed power to his brother Raul in 2006 due to his ail­ing health. Or­di­nary Cubans hailed him for pro­vid­ing free health and ed­u­ca­tion. But he cracked down harshly on dis­sent, jail­ing and ex­il­ing op­po­nents. Even in re­tire­ment, Cas­tro wielded in­flu­ence be­hind the scenes and reg­u­larly penned di­a­tribes against Amer­i­can “im­pe­ri­al­ism” in the state press.

The news of Cas­tro’s death drew strong - and po­lar­ized - re­ac­tions across the world. In Mi­ami, just 370 km away, crowds of cel­e­brat­ing Cuban-Amer­i­cans danced in the streets for a sec­ond night. Amid the ca­coph­ony of car horns, drums, loud mu­sic and singing in the city’s Lit­tle Ha­vana neigh­bor­hood, a chant rang out: “Fidel, you tyrant, take your brother too!” Some two mil­lion Cubans live in the United States, nearly 70 per­cent of them in Florida. The vast ma­jor­ity of those live in Mi­ami.

Cuban-Amer­i­can politi­cians ex­co­ri­ated Cas­tro, with Florida Sen­a­tor Marco Ru­bio call­ing him an “evil, mur­der­ous dic­ta­tor who in­flicted mis­ery and suf­fer­ing on his own peo­ple”. How­ever, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin hailed Cas­tro as “the sym­bol of an era,” and China’s Xi Jin­ping said “Com­rade Cas­tro will live for­ever”. There were sharply dif­fer­ent US re­ac­tions from out­go­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump.

Obama, who em­barked on a his­toric rap­proche­ment with Cuba in 2014, said the US ex­tended a “hand of friend­ship” to the Cuban peo­ple. But Trump dis­missed Cas­tro as “a bru­tal dic­ta­tor”. The fu­ture of the US-Cuban thaw is un­cer­tain un­der Trump, who has threat­ened to re­verse course if Ha­vana does not al­low greater hu­man rights.

Ha­vana was un­usu­ally silent as the nine of­fi­cial days of mourn­ing be­gan. “What can I say? Fidel Cas­tro was larger than life,” said a tear­ful Aurora Men­dez, 82. She re­called a life in poverty be­fore Cas­tro’s revo­lu­tion in 1959. “Fidel was al­ways first in ev­ery­thing, fight­ing for the down­trod­den and the poor,” she said. In­di­ana Valdes and her hus­band Maykel Duquesne, who work at a state-run bank, wor­ried about life af­ter Cas­tro. “Fidel was the is­land’s pro­tec­tor, he was ev­ery­where,” said Valdes, 43.

Fidel Cas­tro, who came to power as a bearded, cigar­chomp­ing 32-year-old, adopted the slo­gan “so­cial­ism or death” and kept his faith to the end. He sur­vived more than 600 as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempts, ac­cord­ing to aides, as well as the failed 1961 US-backed Bay of Pigs in­va­sion. His out­rage over that botched plot con­trib­uted to the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis in 1962, when the Soviet Union ac­cepted his re­quest to send bal­lis­tic mis­siles to Cuba. The con­fronta­tion fol­low­ing Washington’s dis­cov­ery of the weapons pushed the world to the brink of nu­clear war.

The USSR bankrolled Cas­tro’s regime un­til 1989, when the Soviet Bloc’s col­lapse sent Cuba’s econ­omy into free-fall. But Fidel man­aged to hang on, ced­ing power to his brother Raul in July 2006 to re­cover from in­testi­nal surgery. Raul Cas­tro has be­gun grad­u­ally to lib­er­al­ize the econ­omy and strengthen ties with for­mer for­eign foes. The fa­ther of at least eight chil­dren, Fidel Cas­tro was last seen in pub­lic on his 90th birth­day on Aug 13. — AFP

HA­VANA: A pic­ture of Fidel Cas­tro and a Cuban flag dec­o­rate a home in the Cuban cap­i­tal yes­ter­day. — AP

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