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Cuba mourns Fidel Castro

Cuban-Americans (left) celebrate the death of Fidel Castro on the streets in Miami’s Little Havana neighbourhood on Saturday. (Top right) Students in Havana place candles around the portrait of Castro on Saturday at the university where he studied law as a young man. (Bottom right) Flowers are being placed beside a photo of Castro outside the Cuban embassy in Beijing on Sunday.—Agencies

HAVANA: Cuba mourned its revolutionary leader Fidel Castro on Sunday as it prepared a four-day funeral procession for the giant figure of modern history, loved by many but branded a tyrant by others.

After the stunned commotion triggered by Saturday’s announcement that Castro, 90, had died, Sunday was set to be a day of preparations ahead of a flurry of events to mark his death.

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

A titan of the 20th century who beat the odds to endure into the 21st, Castro died on late 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 counter-revolutionaries 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.”

President Raul Castro said his older brother’s remains would be cremated on Saturday, the first of nine days of national mourning. There was no official confirmation of whether that had yet happened.

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

No official events were scheduled on Sunday but a series of memorials will begin on Monday (today), when Cubans are called to converge on Havana’s Revolution Square.

“Tomorrow will be great. It will go down in history,” Obregon said.

Castro’s ashes will then go on a four-day island-wide procession before being buried in the south-eastern city of Santiago on Dec 4, the government said.

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

Even in retirement, Castro wielded influence behind the scenes and regularly penned diatribes against American “imperialism” in the state press.

Dancing in Miami

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

In Miami, just 370kms away, crowds of celebrating Cuban-Americans danced in the streets for a second night.

Amid the cacophony of car horns, drums, loud music and singing in the city’s 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 per cent of them in Florida. The vast majority of those live in Miami.

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. 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 human rights.

Underdog and survivor

Fidel Castro, who came to power as a bearded, cigar-chomping 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 in 1962, when the Soviet Union accepted his request to send ballistic missiles to Cuba.

The confrontation following Washington’s discovery of the weapons pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war.

The USSR bankrolled Castro’s regime until 1989, when the Soviet Bloc’s collapse sent Cuba’s economy into free-fall. But Fidel managed to hang on, ceding power to his brother Raul in July 2006 to recover from intestinal surgery.

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

The father of at least eight children, Fidel Castro was last seen in public on his 90th birthday on Au 13.

courtesy: dawn news



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