Scores of Cubans bid for­mer leader farewell

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Michael Weis­senstein and Peter Orsi

HA­VANA — Hun­dreds of thousands of Cubans bade farewell to Fidel Cas­tro on Mon­day, pledg­ing al­le­giance to his so­cial­ist ide­ol­ogy and pay­ing trib­ute be­fore images of the leader as a young guer­rilla gaz­ing out over the coun­try he would come to rule for nearly half a cen­tury.

Lines stretched for hours out­side the Plaza of the Rev­o­lu­tion, the mas­sive plaza where Cas­tro de­liv­ered fiery speeches to hun­dreds of thousands of sup­port­ers in the years af­ter he seized power.

There and across the coun­try, peo­ple signed con­do­lence books and an oath of loy­alty to Cas­tro’s sweep­ing May 1, 2000, procla­ma­tion of the Cuban rev­o­lu­tion as an un­end­ing bat­tle for so­cial­ism, na­tion­al­ism and an out­size role for the is­land on the world stage.

Trib­ute sites were set up in hun­dreds of places across the coun­try as the gov­ern­ment urged Cubans to reaf­firm their be­lief in a so­cial­ist, sin­gle-party sys- tem that in re­cent years has strug­gled to main­tain the fer­vor that was wide­spread at the tri­umph of the 1959 rev­o­lu­tion.

Many mourn­ers came on their own, but thousands of oth­ers were sent in groups by the com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment, which still em­ploys about 80 per­cent of the work­ing peo­ple in Cuba de­spite the growth of the pri­vate sec­tor un­der Cas­tro’s suc­ces­sor, his brother Raul.

One of the first in line at the Plaza of the Rev­o­lu­tion was Ta­nia Jimenez, 53, a math­e­ma­ti­cian who ar­rived at 4 a.m. car­ry­ing a rose.

“Fidel is ev­ery­thing to us, the soul of this coun­try who gave ev­ery­thing, all his life,” Jimenez said, in tears.

San­dra Aguilar, a 48year-old doc­tor, said her visit to the memo­rial had two goals: “We came to say good­bye to our com­man­der, to reaf­firm our sup­port of the rev­o­lu­tion,” she said.

Af­ter 10 years of lead­er­ship by Raul Cas­tro, a rel­a­tively cam­era-shy and low-key suc­ces­sor, Cuba has found it­self riv­eted once again by the words and images of the leader who dom­i­nated the lives of gen­er­a­tions. Since his death Friday night, staterun news­pa­pers, tele­vi­sion and ra­dio have run wall-towall trib­utes to Fidel Cas­tro, broad­cast­ing non-stop footage of his speeches, in­ter­views and for­eign trips, in­ter­spersed with adu­la­tory re­mem­brances by prom­i­nent Cubans.

In­side the memo­rial, thousands walked through three rooms with neari­den­ti­cal dis­plays fea­tur­ing the 1962 Al­berto Korda pho­to­graph of the young Cas­tro in the Sierra Maes­tra moun­tains, bou­quets of white flow­ers and an ar­ray of Cas­tro’s medals against a black back­drop, framed by honor guards of uni­formed sol­diers and chil­dren in school uni­forms. The ashes of the 90-year-old for­mer pres­i­dent did not ap­pear to be on dis­play.

Signs read: “The Cuban Com­mu­nist Party is the only le­git­i­mate heir of the legacy and au­thor­ity of the com­man­der in chief of the Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion, com­rade Fidel Cas­tro.”

The scene was played out on a smaller scale at count­less places across the coun­try.

RA­MON ESPINOSA/AP

Peo­ple wait in line Mon­day to pay their fi­nal re­spects to for­mer leader Fidel Cas­tro.

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