Viva Fidel!: Cas­tro takes fi­nal voy­age across Cuba

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A mil­i­tary jeep car­ried the ashes of Fidel Cas­tro along streets lined with flag­wav­ing Cubans in Ha­vana yes­ter­day, start­ing a four-day jour­ney to his fi­nal rest­ing place across the is­land. After two days of trib­utes in Ha­vana, the “car­a­van of free­dom” de­parted on a 950-kilo­me­ter trek re­trac­ing the route of the rev­o­lu­tion’s vic­tory tour of 1959.

The flag-cov­ered urn rested on a small olive-green trailer, flanked by white flow­ers and pro­tected by a glass case as Ha­vana bid farewell to the com­mu­nist icon who ruled the is­land with an iron fist for al­most half a cen­tury. Hun­dreds of thou­sands chanted “I am Fidel!” and “viva Fidel!” as the “car­a­van of free­dom” headed on long trip that will end with a fi­nal cer­e­mony in the eastern city of San­ti­ago de Cuba on Sun­day.

Se­nior of­fi­cials of the gov­ern­ment and Com­mu­nist Party, and Cas­tro’s long­time part­ner, Dalia Soto del Valle, at­tended the farewell cer­e­mony at the armed forces min­istry be­fore the car­a­van headed out. Cubans were ob­serv­ing the fifth of nine days of mourn­ing for Cas­tro fol­low­ing his death on Fri­day at age 90. Cas­tro ruled from 1959 un­til an ill­ness forced him to hand power to his brother, Raul, in 2006.

“It’s very mov­ing to say good­bye to a per­son who meant so much but who lived long enough to ac­com­plish what he wanted,” said a tear­ful Esper­anza Pares, 86. Cas­tro’s ashes will take the re­verse route that his band of guer­rilla fight­ers took after de­feat­ing dic­ta­tor Ful­gen­cio Batista.

From Jan­uary 2 to Jan­uary 8, 1959, the bearded rebels trav­eled from San­ti­ago to Ha­vana, stop­ping in Cas­tro’s home re­gion, Hol­guin, as well as the cities of Ca­m­aguey, Las Tu­nas, Sancti Spir­i­tus, Santa Clara and Matan­zas. One of the most sym­bol-filled stops of this last trip will be in Santa Clara, where the ashes of his Ar­gen­tine com­radein-arms, Ernesto “Che” Gue­vara, rest. The urn will be laid to rest at the Santa Ifi­ge­nia ceme­tery, next to the mau­soleum of 19th cen­tury in­de­pen­dence hero Jose Marti.

‘Un­til vic­tory, al­ways!’

The trip fol­lows two days of trib­utes in Ha­vana where hun­dreds of thou­sands were en­cour­aged by the gov­ern­ment to view a pic­ture memo­rial to Cas­tro at the Rev­o­lu­tion Square. The com­mem­o­ra­tions in the cap­i­tal ended with a mas­sive rally Tues­day night at the square at­tended by Latin Amer­i­can, African and Caribbean lead­ers, along with the Greek prime min­is­ter-the only Euro­pean leader at the event.

Raul Cas­tro, 85, thanked the “count­less ges­tures of sol­i­dar­ity and af­fec­tion from around the world” and end­ing with the rev­o­lu­tion­ary bat­tle cry, “Un­til vic­tory, al­ways!” But the pres­i­dents of West­ern pow­ers, and even friendly na­tions in­clud­ing Rus­sia, China and Iran, sent deputies in their place. The ab­sences un­der­scored the di­vi­sive legacy of a leader who de­fied the United States, backed guer­rilla move­ments in Latin Amer­ica and de­ployed his army to con­flicts in Africa dur­ing the Cold War.

Leftist Latin Amer­i­can lead­ers vowed to carry the torch of Cas­tro’s rev­o­lu­tion as they ad­dressed the rally. “To­day it is up to us to raise the flags of in­de­pen­dence of the great fa­ther­land, to­day it is up to us to hold the flag of dig­nity and free­dom of the peo­ple,” said Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro, whose late men­tor, Hugo Chavez, had a spe­cial bond with Cas­tro. Al­lies praised Cas­tro in al­most re­li­gious tones, with Bo­li­vian Pres­i­dent Evo Mo­rales say­ing, “Fidel is not dead . ... Fidel is more alive than ever, more nec­es­sary than ever.”

Cas­tro’s death, how­ever, comes as Latin Amer­ica’s left is los­ing ground. Maduro is fac­ing a deep eco­nomic crisis and fight­ing op­po­si­tion at­tempts to hold a re­call ref­er­en­dum, while Brazil’s Dilma Rouss­eff was im­peached in Au­gust and a con­ser­va­tive took over in Ar­gentina last year. US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who along with Raul Cas­tro ended decades of en­mity to re­store diplo­matic re­la­tions, did not at­tend the rally, send­ing an ad­vi­sor and a diplo­mat with­out the sta­tus of a “pres­i­den­tial del­e­ga­tion.”“We con­tinue to have some sig­nif­i­cant con­cerns about the way the Cuban gov­ern­ment cur­rently op­er­ates, par­tic­u­larly with re­gard to pro­tect­ing the ba­sic hu­man rights of the Cuban peo­ple,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. — AFP

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