While Miami mostly celebrated Fidel Castro’s death, in Havana the mood is much more somber — nine days of duelo, or mourning.
Castro ruled Cuba with an iron fist for half a century until he handed the reins of his regime to his younger brother Raúl a decade ago. Still, tens of thousands of Cubans are lining up at Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square) this week to pay homage to Fidel, to defend his revolution — and in many cases explain why they still revere a communist leader whose legacy is also political repression and economic recession.
Many waited hours to pass beneath the Plaza de la Revolución’s towering monument to Cuban independence hero José Martí, where a memorial to Fidel has been placed. One was 39-year-old Cuban IT engineer Eric Castro. He’s no relation, but he said the world outside Cuba gave Fidel a bad rap.
“Many of us here are young enough that we were born with the revolution already there and all we know is all the great things the revolution has given to us," said Castro, referring to the free university education he received and his family's free healthcare.
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"And we hear so many bad things in the international media about the revolution and so much criticism. They say it’s a dictatorship and we don’t really believe that,” said Eric Castro.
Cuban English teacher Maribel González also insisted that Fidel should be remembered as a social justice crusader and not as a dictator.
“If you have to talk about a person that has thought all his life about poor people," she said, "this is Fidel.”
Revolution Square is where journalists like myself used to cover hours-long speeches by Fidel in which he usually railed at the U.S. The atmosphere there this week is much different – as it promises to be across the country this week as Fidel's ashes (he was cremated over the weekend) are transported to the eastern city of Santiago for his funeral this Sunday.