Tear­ful Cubans pay trib­ute to Fidel Cas­tro

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of Cubans swarmed Ha­vana’s Rev­o­lu­tion Square for a tear­ful trib­ute to Fidel Cas­tro on Mon­day while his brother, Raul, led a pri­vate cer­e­mony in front of the late com­mu­nist icon’s ashes.

A week­long farewell to Cas­tro be­gan with long lines of mourn­ers stream­ing past a black-and-white pic­ture of “El Co­man­dante” as a young, black-bearded rev­o­lu­tion­ary car­ry­ing a ri­fle. The crowd walked by silently, some took pic­tures with their phones and oth­ers sobbed un­con­trol­lably as they looked up at the por­trait flanked by white roses in­side the mon­u­ment to in­de­pen­dence hero Jose Marti.

Many were dressed in state uni­forms-school chil­dren, sol­diers, veterans, doc­tors and cus­toms of­fi­cers-and the line con­tin­ued as night fell. “We know that our co­man­dante has be­come im­mor­tal,” said 36-year-old univer­sity pro­fes­sor Pe­dro Alvarez.

To the sur­prise of many, Cas­tro’s ashes were not part of the pub­lic display. Cuban state tele­vi­sion later showed Fidel’s brother and suc­ces­sor, Raul Cas­tro, lead­ing a pri­vate cer­e­mony in front of the dark wood urn at the armed forces min­istry. It was the first time that his re­mains were shown since his death Fri­day at age 90.

Cas­tro, whose 1959 rev­o­lu­tion top­pled a dic­ta­tor­ship with the prom­ise of bring­ing jus­tice and equal­ity to the Caribbean is­land, was a tow­er­ing fig­ure of the 20th cen­tury. While some saw him as a so­cial­ist hero who brought ed­u­ca­tion and free health care, oth­ers la­beled him a tyrant who caused eco­nomic hard­ship and sparked an ex­o­dus of Cubans seek­ing a bet­ter life. “He’s the fa­ther of all Cubans. My dad was my dad, but he couldn’t give me what (Cas­tro) gave me,” said Lour­des Rivera, a 66-yearold re­tired civil ser­vant who sat on a curb and cried as she waited in line. “He gave me ev­ery­thing. My free­dom. My dig­nity.”

Across the is­land, Cubans were in­vited to sign an oath to “keep fight­ing” for the rev­o­lu­tion at hun­dreds of schools, hos­pi­tals and other pub­lic build­ings. Raul Cas­tro, who took over for his ail­ing brother a decade ago, and top of­fi­cials signed the same pledge dur­ing their in­ti­mate cer­e­mony af­ter plac­ing flow­ers in front of the urn.

In a sign of chang­ing times, US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama vis­ited Rev­o­lu­tion Square dur­ing his his­toric visit to Ha­vana in March, when he be­came the first US leader since 1928 to step foot in Cuba, a na­tion of 11 mil­lion peo­ple. In 2014, Raul Cas­tro an­nounced a diplo­matic de­tente with Obama, who has lifted some trade bar­ri­ers. On Mon­day, the first reg­u­lar flights from the United States to the Cuban cap­i­tal in half a cen­tury re­sumed.

But US Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump re­newed a threat to end the thaw un­less Ha­vana makes con­ces­sions on hu­man rights and open­ing up its econ­omy. “If Cuba is un­will­ing to make a bet­ter deal for the Cuban peo­ple, the Cuban/Amer­i­can peo­ple and the US as a whole, I will ter­mi­nate deal,” he said on Twit­ter.

Manuel Ro­driguez Oliva, a 73-yearold in­te­rior min­istry re­tiree who paid trib­ute to Cas­tro, said Trump is “para­noid and crazy.” “He can break re­la­tions. We have lived with­out them and we will keep liv­ing,” Ro­driguez Oliva added. Raul Cas­tro has en­acted grad­ual eco­nomic re­forms. But he has firmly re­sisted any changes to the com­mu­nist is­land’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. Gov­ern­ment op­po­nents hope Fidel’s death will trig­ger bolder re­forms.

Blame the US em­bargo

Dis­si­dents who were re­pressed by Cas­tro’s regime for years said they were happy that the “dic­ta­tor” had died, but called off reg­u­lar demon­stra­tions on Sun­day out of def­er­ence to those in mourn­ing. In Mi­ami, where so many Cubans flocked in the past decades to es­cape Cas­tro’s poli­cies, Cuban-Amer­i­cans cel­e­brated his death with street par­ties through­out the week­end.

The trib­utes will con­tinue in Ha­vana on Tues­day with an event fea­tur­ing for­eign dig­ni­taries. Cas­tro’s left­ist al­lies in Latin Amer­ica are com­ing, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dents Rafael Cor­rea of Ecuador, Ni­co­las Maduro of Venezuela and Evo Mo­rales of Bo­livia.

From Africa, Robert Mu­gabe of Zim­babwe, Uhuru Keny­atta of Kenya and Ja­cob Zuma of South Africa will fly in. But sev­eral West­ern lead­ers, in­clud­ing Obama, are not com­ing. Start­ing Wed­nes­day, Cas­tro’s ashes will go on a four-day is­land-wide pro­ces­sion.

They will be buried on Sun­day in the south­east­ern city of San­ti­ago de Cuba, the heart­land of Cas­tro’s up­ris­ing against US-backed dic­ta­tor Ful­gen­cio Batista. Fidel could do no wrong for the mourn­ers at Rev­o­lu­tion Square, where Cas­tro would often rail against the US “em­pire” dur­ing his leg­endary, marathon speeches.

For them, the coun­try’s eco­nomic prob­lems stem from the decades-old US em­bargo. “If we didn’t de­velop more, it’s the fault of im­pe­ri­al­ism,” said a teary-eyed Au­gustin Fi­vale Her­nan­dez, 80, hold­ing his wife’s hand af­ter par­tic­i­pat­ing in the event.—AFP

HA­VANA: Mourn­ers line up at Rev­o­lu­tion Plaza, the site of two days of trib­utes to the late Fidel Cas­tro Mon­day, Nov 28, 2016.—AP

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