Political leaders and other dignitaries from around the world began to arrive in Havana Tuesday to take part in an evening mass gathering during the second day of a week-long memorial tribute for former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Among leaders expected to take part: Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto and King Juan Carlos, who will head the Spanish delegation.
Other allies such as Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that they will not travel to Cuba. The United States is sending Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. The White House said President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are not attending.
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On Monday and again Tuesday, tens of thousands of Cubans lined up to pay their respects to “El Comandante” at Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.
Inside the memorial to Cuban patriot José Martí that looms over the plaza, they filed past simple floral arrangements and a portrait of a young bearded Castro in fatigues with a rifle over his shoulder looking across the Sierra Maestra mountains that served as headquarters for the guerrilla campaign that ultimately led to the revolution’s triumph.
The overall mood was somber, respectful and reflective. Some openly wept, brushed away tears or kissed pictures of Castro. Others simply walked past as if fulfilling a duty.
"I was born under the Revolution. I was raised by the Revolution. I was trained by the Revolution," Wilson Vega, 51, a neurologist who lined up in his white doctor's coat told The Washington Post. "I am who I am because of Fidel Castro."
"He's our commander, and I wanted to say goodbye," Sofia Morales told the newspaper, with little apparent conviction. Morales, 25, arrived by bus with other students from their teacher-training college.
The two-day procession in Havana is the beginning of a week of services that will spread across the island, ending Sunday in Santiago de Cuba, where the revolution was launched.
The plaza, a massive concrete expanse where papal masses have been celebrated and Cubans have gathered at key moments in the island’s history, was open to mourners until 10 p.m. Monday and again through midday Tuesday.
Cubans who passed by the memorial in the plaza were asked to sign a book of condolences and a “solemn oath” to fulfill the ideals of the revolution. The mass gathering, which VIPs will attend, is scheduled for 7 p.m.
On Wednesday, Castro’s ashes will begin making a journey across the island in a caravan that will follow a route that retraces the one that a young Castro and other revolutionaries took in 1959 from eastern Cuba to Havana after the triumph of the revolution.
The six-day “Caravan of Freedom” that Castro led in 1959 was perhaps the most emblematic in terms of the revolution’s highlights. The journey is more than 500 miles long.
As Castro’s remains are prepared for the return to Santiago, the state is rekindling images of a younger Castro whose legacy they vow to keep alive, the Associated Press reported.
“Fidel will always be that restless youth and tireless revolutionary, who attacked the Moncada, arrived aboard the Granma yacht to forge the path to freedom, fought like a lion in the Sierra Maestra and crossed the country in the Caravan of Victory,” proclaimed an article in Granma, the official Communist Party newspaper, a day after Castro’s death.
According to Granma, Castro’s ashes are in the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces’ Granma Hall where they will remain until being taken via the caravan to Santiago.
The final caravan transporting Castro’s ashes will pass through rural communities significantly changed by social and economic reforms he adopted. Many residents now have access to health care and education. But many of those towns are also in a prolonged economic collapse, the country’s once dominant sugar industry decimated, the sugar mills and plantations gone, AP reported.
Castro and his revolutionary government believed the island’s reliance on sugar exports to the United States was the root of many of the country’s ills but struggled to diversify the island’s economy.
“A lot of these areas are probably poorer today than they were then,” William LeoGrande, an American University professor of Latin American politics, told the AP.
In state broadcast programs and Cuba’s official newspapers, the government has urged Cubans to unite behind the socialist, single-party system installed by Castro but which has struggled to maintain the widespread fervor it gained more than five decades ago.
Hundreds of thousands are expected to line the streets as his ashes are transported over the course of three days to Santiago.
Some Cubans said the caravan symbolizes the island’s continued loyalty to the revolution. Julexis Hernandez, a bank auditor, recalled watching yearly events commemorating Castro’s jubilant march into Havana since she was a child.
“It has always been the caravan of victory,” Hernandez told the AP Monday as she and a colleague waited to pay respects at the public memorial site in Havana. “Now, it will be a caravan of sadness.”
Others said Castro’s final journey held no weight for them.
“For me, it doesn’t symbolize anything,” said house painter Alejandro Gomez Garcia. “He’s already dead.”
HAVANA Cubans across the island are being urged to pay tribute to Fidel Castro by signing oath upholding the late leader’s revolutionary ideals.
The oath contains Castro’s words outlining his vision of revolution, first pronounced in a May Day speech in 2000 at the height of the custody battle over 6-year-old castaway Elián Gonzalez.
Here is the Cuban government’s official English translation of the text from that speech:
“Revolution means to have a sense of history; it is changing everything that must be changed; it is full equality and freedom; it is being treated and treating others like human beings; it is achieving emancipation by ourselves and through our own efforts; it is challenging powerful dominant forces from within and without the social and national milieu; it is defending the values in which we believe at the cost of any sacrifice; it is modesty, selflessness, altruism, solidarity and heroism; it is fighting with courage, intelligence and realism; it is never lying or violating ethical principles; it is a profound conviction that there is no power in the world that can crush the power of truth and ideas. Revolution means unity; it is independence, it is fighting for our dreams of justice for Cuba and for the world, which is the foundation of our patriotism, our socialism and our internationalism.”