Regional leaders join rally to honor Castro
HAVANA — Regional leaders and tens of thousands of Cubans filled Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution on Tuesday night for a service honoring Fidel Castro on the wide plaza where the former Cuban leader delivered fiery speeches to mammoth crowds in the years after he seized power.
The presidents of Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Panama, South Africa and Zimbabwe, along with leaders of a host of smaller Caribbean nations, flew in to Havana to pay tribute to Castro, who died Friday at 90.
South African President Jacob Zuma praised Cuba under Castro for its record on education and health care and its support for African independence struggles.
Castro will be remembered as “a great fighter for the idea that the poor have a right to live with dignity,” Zuma told the crowd.
The rally began with revolution-era footage of Castro and other guerrillas on a big screen and the playing of the Cuban national anthem. Castro’s younger brother and successor, President Raul Castro, saluted.
Cuban state media reported that an urn containing Fidel Castro’s ashes was being kept in a room at the Defense Ministry where top Communist Party officials paid tribute the previous evening.
During the day, lines stretched for hours outside the Plaza of the Revolution. In Havana and across the island, people signed condolence books and an oath of loyalty to Castro’s May 2000 proclamation of the Cuban revolution as an unending battle for socialism, nationalism and an outsize role for the island on the world stage.
“I feel a deep sadness, but immense pride in having had him near,” said Ana Beatriz Perez, a 50-year-old medical researcher who was advancing in the slowmoving line with the help of crutches. “His physical departure gives us strength to continue advancing in his ideology. This isn’t going away, because we are millions.”
“His death is another revolution,” said her husband, Fidel Diaz, who predicted that it will prompt many to “rediscover the ideas of the commander for the new generations.”
Tribute sites were set up in hundreds of places across the island as the government urged Cubans to reaffirm their belief in a socialist, single-party system that in recent years has struggled to maintain the fervor that was widespread at the triumph of the 1959 revolution.
Many mourners came of their own accord, but thousands 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 Raul.
Inside the memorial, thousands walked through rooms with displays featuring the 1962 Alberto Korda photograph of a 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 soldiers and children in school uniforms.
Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, left, talks with Bolivia’s Evo Morales at the Castro memorial.