Re­gional lead­ers join rally to honor Cas­tro

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Fabiola Sanchez and Juan Zamorano

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.

ALE­JAN­DRO ERNESTO/EPA

Venezuela’s Ni­co­las Maduro, left, talks with Bo­livia’s Evo Mo­rales at the Cas­tro memo­rial.

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