Cuba set for farewell for his­toric leader Cas­tro North Korea calls 3-day mourn­ing pe­riod for Cas­tro

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Worldwide -

HA­VANA — Night­clubs closed, base­ball games were sus­pended and booze was banned yes­ter­day as Cuba pre­pared to send off rev­o­lu­tion­ary leader Fidel Cas­tro with days of trib­utes and a cross-coun­try fu­neral pro­ces­sion.

Cubans braced for a se­ries of events to com­mem­o­rate the life of the man who ruled the com­mu­nist is­land for decades, played a ma­jor role in the Cold War and was loved or loathed by many.

Stu­dents left can­dles burn­ing next to a por­trait of the black-bearded com­mu­nist fire­brand dur­ing a vigil at Ha­vana Univer­sity.

A gi­ant photo of Cas­tro was hung out­side the Na­tional Li­brary on Revo­lu­tion Square, where throngs of peo­ple were ex­pected to pay their last re­spects yes­ter­day and to­day, kick­ing off a se­ries of me­mo­ri­als.

The por­trait shows a young Fidel car­ry­ing a back­pack and ri­fle dur­ing the Cuban Revo­lu­tion, which brought him to power in 1959.

A ti­tan of the 20th cen­tury who beat the odds to en­dure into the 21st, Cas­tro died late on Fri­day af­ter surviving 11 US ad­min­is­tra­tions and hun­dreds of as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempts. No cause of death was given.

“It is a great loss. The most im­por­tant thing is that he died when he chose, not when all the coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies wanted,” said Car­los Manuel Obre­gon Ro­driguez, a 43-year-old taxi driver in Ha­vana.

“It may not be painful for ev­ery­one, but it is for a lot of peo­ple. I was born un­der this revo­lu­tion and I owe Fidel a lot,” he added.

Pres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro said his older brother’s re­mains would be cre­mated. There was no of­fi­cial con­fir­ma­tion of whether that had yet hap­pened.

Dis­si­dents who en­dured Fidel’s iron-fisted rule kept a low pro­file. The Ladies in White op­po­si­tion group can­celled a reg­u­lar Sun­day protest in what they said was a show of re­spect for those mourn­ing Cas­tro.

“We are not happy about the death of a man, a hu­man TOKYO — North Korea is ob­serv­ing a three-day pe­riod of mourn­ing for Fidel Cas­tro, seen by the North as a rare com­rade-in-arms against the com­mon en­emy of the United States.

The North has or­dered flags out­side of­fi­cial build­ings be flown at half-staff to hon­our Cas­tro, the coun­try’s state me­dia re­ported yes­ter­day. The iconic Cuban leader died on Fri­day at age 90.

Re­ports from Py­ongyang said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent a wreath to the Cuban Em­bassy and that a del­e­ga­tion of se­nior North Korean of­fi­cials has left for Ha­vana to at­tend Cas­tro’s memo­rial ser­vices.

Ac­cord­ing to a Ja­panese agency that mon­i­tors North

be­ing. We are happy about the death of dic­ta­tors,” Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, told AFP.

Cas­tro’s ashes will go on a four-day is­land-wide pro­ces­sion start­ing on Wed­nes­day be­fore be­ing buried in the south­east­ern city of San­ti­ago de Cuba on De­cem­ber 4.

San­ti­ago, Cuba’s sec­ond city, was the scene of Cas­tro’s ill-fated first at­tempt at revo­lu­tion in 1953 – six years be­fore he suc­ceeded in oust­ing the US-backed dic­ta­tor Ful­gen­cio Batista.

Cas­tro ruled un­til hand­ing power to Raul Cas­tro in 2006 due to poor health.

Or­di­nary Cubans hailed him for pro­vid­ing free health­care and ed­u­ca­tion. But he cracked down harshly on dis­sent, jail­ing and ex­il­ing op­po­nents.

The news of Cas­tro’s death drew strong — and po­larised — re­ac­tions across the world.

In Mi­ami, just 370km away, crowds of cel­e­brat­ing Cuban-Amer­i­cans danced in the streets. Korean me­dia, Cas­tro is the first for­eign po­lit­i­cal fig­ure to be hon­oured in such a man­ner since Pales­tinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004.

Be­sides fly­ing flags at half-staff, it was not im­me­di­ately clear what the mourn­ing pe­riod, which ends on Wed­nes­day, would en­tail.

Shortly af­ter re­ceiv­ing news of Cas­tro’s death, Kim Yong Nam, head of the North’s par­lia­ment, and Premier Pak Pong Ju sent a mes­sage of con­do­lence to Cas­tro’s brother Raul, who as­sumed power af­ter Fidel be­came too weak to con­tinue as leader in 2008.

In it, they said that although Fidel Cas­tro has died, “the feats he per­formed for the Cuban revo­lu­tion and the fra­ter­nal re­la­tions of friend­ship be­tween the two

Amid the din of car horns, drums and singing in the Lit­tle Ha­vana neigh­bour­hood, a chant rang out: “Fidel, you tyrant, take your brother, too!”

Some two mil­lion Cubans live in the United States, nearly 70 per­cent of them in Florida, where so many is­landers have fled to since the 1959 revo­lu­tion.

Cuban-Amer­i­can politi­cians ex­co­ri­ated Cas­tro, with Florida Sen­a­tor Marco Ru­bio call­ing him an “evil, mur­der­ous dic­ta­tor who in­flicted mis­ery and suf­fer­ing on his own peo­ple”.

How­ever, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin hailed Cas­tro as “the sym­bol of an era”, and China’s Xi Jin­ping said “Com­rade Cas­tro will live for­ever”.

There were sharply dif­fer­ent US re­ac­tions from out­go­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump.

Obama, who em­barked on a his­toric rap­proche­ment with Cuba in 2014, said the US ex­tended a “hand of friend­ship” to the Cuban peo­ple. coun­tries would re­main for­ever.”

But Fidel Cas­tro’s pass­ing could well be the end of an era for North Korea-Cuba re­la­tions.

Be­cause of their com­mon en­mity to­ward the US and sim­i­lar au­thor­i­tar­ian power struc­tures, Cuba and North Korea had main­tained very close diplo­matic ties through­out the years. The two coun­tries es­tab­lished ties in 1960 and Cas­tro vis­ited the North in 1986 to meet with Kim Il Sung, the coun­try’s founder and Kim Jong Un’s grand­fa­ther.

Such fra­ter­nal sen­ti­ment to­ward Ha­vana and Raul Cas­tro, how­ever, ap­pears to have dimmed in Py­ongyang amid a rap­proche­ment be­tween Cuba and the US, who agreed to nor­malise ties in 2014. — AP

But Trump dis­missed Cas­tro as “a bru­tal dic­ta­tor”. The fu­ture of the US-Cuban thaw is un­cer­tain un­der Trump, who has threat­ened to re­verse course if Ha­vana does not al­low greater re­spect for hu­man rights.

Ha­vana was un­usu­ally quiet af­ter al­co­hol sales were re­stricted and shows and base­ball matches sus­pended.

Fidel Cas­tro, who came to power as a bearded, cigar­chomp­ing 32-year-old, adopted the slo­gan “so­cial­ism or death” and kept his faith to the end.

He sur­vived more than 600 as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempts, ac­cord­ing to aides, as well as the failed 1961 US-backed Bay of Pigs in­va­sion.

His out­rage over that botched plot con­trib­uted to the Cuban mis­sile cri­sis the fol­low­ing year, when the world stood on the brink of nu­clear war.

The USSR bankrolled Cas­tro’s regime un­til 1989, when the Soviet bloc’s col­lapse sent Cuba’s econ­omy into freefall.

But Fidel man­aged to hang on, ced­ing power to his — brother in July 2006 to re­cover from in­testi­nal surgery.

Raul Cas­tro has be­gun very grad­u­ally to lib­er­alise the econ­omy and strengthen ties with for­mer for­eign foes.

An­a­lysts said the el­der brother’s pres­ence weighed on his brother’s rule.

Fidel Cas­tro’s death “will prob­a­bly speed up the eco­nomic re­forms,” said Jorge Duany, a Cuba spe­cial­ist at Florida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity. — AFP still

A photo taken on July 26, 1991, shows the late South African pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela salut­ing the crowd next to the late Cuban leader Fidel Cas­tro in Matan­zas, Cuba. AFP

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