Cuba be­gins nine days of mourn­ing for Castro

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Opinion/worldwide -

CUBAN stu­dents wav­ing flags broke into a mass chant of “I am Fidel” to salute Fidel Castro as nine days of mourn­ing be­gan for the Cold War icon, who dom­i­nated the is­land’s po­lit­i­cal life for gen­er­a­tions.

Al­co­hol sales were sus­pended, flags flew at half­staff and shows and con­certs were can­celled af­ter his younger brother and suc­ces­sor, Pres­i­dent Raul Castro, told the coun­try on Fri­day that Fidel had died at 10:29PM, with­out giv­ing a cause of death.

Gi­ant ral­lies are planned in Ha­vana’s Rev­o­lu­tion Square and in the east­ern city of San­ti­ago to hon­our Castro, who died aged 90, six decades af­ter the broth­ers set out from Mex­ico to over­throw the govern­ment of Ful­gen­cio Batista.

News­pa­pers on the is­land of 11 mil­lion peo­ple were printed in black ink to mourn Fidel, in­stead of the usual red of the of­fi­cial Com­mu­nist Party daily Granma, and the blue of Ju­ven­tud Re­belde (Rebel Youth), the pa­per of the Com­mu­nist youth.

There was no height­ened mil­i­tary or po­lice pres­ence to mark the pass­ing of the epochal rev­o­lu­tion­ary leader, and at Ha­vana Univer­sity, Castro’s alma mater, hun­dreds of stu­dents gath­ered to wave huge Cuban flags and shout “Viva Fidel and Viva Raul”.

Apart from the chant­ing stu­dents, Ha­vana life went on largely as nor­mal, only qui­eter and more sub­dued fol­low­ing the news of Castro’s death.

Street ven­dors sold food and hand­crafts from stalls to passers-by, while 1950s Chevro­lets full of dents and held to­gether by makeshift re­pairs cruised by, crammed with pas­sen­gers. Nev­er­the­less, Satur­day was a day for re­flec­tion. Castro’s re­mains were cre­mated, and his ashes will be taken around Cuba un­til a state fu­neral on De­cem­ber 4. Diplo­matic of­fi­cials said for­eign dig­ni­taries will ar­rive by to­mor­row for a me­mo­rial ser­vice to be held in Rev­o­lu­tion Square that evening.

There will be no top level games of base­ball — Castro’s pas­sion af­ter pol­i­tics — for the nine-day pe­riod of mourn­ing, the sport’s na­tional fed­er­a­tion de­clared.

Cuban state tele­vi­sion, stu­dent as­so­ci­a­tions and the women’s fed­er­a­tion had or­gan­ised smaller ral­lies to mourn Fidel Castro and pledge their sup­port to the rev­o­lu­tion.

In Florida, on the other hand, Fidel Castro’s death has prompted an emo­tional and long-awaited cel­e­bra­tion among the city’s Cuban-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity.

Peace­ful demon­stra­tors waved flags and honked car horns, many cheer­ing with joy and oth­ers weep­ing for fam­ily mem­bers who did not live to see this day.

Shortly af­ter Castro’s death was an­nounced on Satur­day, thou­sands poured into the streets of Mi­ami’s Lit­tle Ha­vana, bang­ing pots with spoons, wav­ing Cuban flags and set­ting off fire­works.

They see Fidel Castro’s death as a sign that a gen­er­a­tion that has ruled Cuba for nearly 60 years is pass­ing from the world stage.

But oth­ers cau­tion that much work re­mains to en­act change in Cuba.

Sens­ing the his­toric mo­ment, younger rev­ellers streamed the event on Face­book Live, posted pic­tures on In­sta­gram, and broad­cast the cel­e­bra­tions on FaceTime and Skype to friends and rel­a­tives on the is­land. Lit­tle Ha­vana and Hialeah — ar­eas where many Cuban ex­iles set­tled — saw peo­ple dance, hug, and ex­change com­ments like “it took so long,” and “now it’s Raul’s turn”.

“Cuba Li­bre” — Free Cuba — has been a ral­ly­ing cry for ex­iles ever since the Castro broth­ers took over Cuba in 1959. The rum and Coke drink of the same name, how­ever, pre­dates the Castro era.

About two mil­lion Cubans live in the US, nearly 70 per­cent of them in Florida. — Al Jazeera

Fidel Castro

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