A tomb presumably built next to a mausoleum erected for Cuban patriot José Martí in Santiago de Cuba will be Fidel Castro’s eternal abode.
The premier location at the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, analysts say, is a government tactic to equate Castro with Cuba’s independence hero.
“Fidel wants to be perceived as someone who continued Martí’s work, although he knows exactly that Martí was a 19th-century Republican democrat who had nothing to do with Marxist-Leninist superstitions,” said exiled Cuban author Carlos Alberto Montaner. “To place his tomb next to Martí’s is an attempt to perpetuate a historical fraud.”
Montaner, a contributing columnist for el Nuevo Herald, added that Castro “did not like the idea of being buried under the Plaza of the Revolution, under the shadow of a large statue of Martí that exists there, because that plaza was built and inaugurated by Fulgencio Batista” (the dictator ousted by Castro and his rebel fighters, including his brother Raúl Castro).
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Santa Ifigenia, located northwest of Santiago and inaugurated in April 1868, is one of the oldest burial sites in the country. Its main monument is dedicated to Martí and dates back to 1951.
The cemetery, named after a black saint, is designated as a Cuban historical site due to its monumental pantheons and crypts carved out of marble and fine stones and because many national heroes are buried there.
Teresa Fernández Soneira, a Cuban academic who lives in Miami, said that since some of the most important Cuban patriots are buried in Santiago de Cuba, “Castro was not going to miss the opportunity to be compared with them. It has the makings of a novel, the perpetuation of a myth.”
It has the makings of a novel, the perpetuation of a myth.
Teresa Fernández Soneira, Cuban academic
From the revolutionary perspective, placing Castro’s ashes in Santiago makes sense: It is not only where he spent much of his childhood, but also from where the revolution was launched.
A short note from the organizing committee for Castro’s funeral, published in government-run publications, stated only that “the burial ceremony will be held at 7:00 a.m. on December 4 in the Santa Ifigenia cemetery.”
The ashes are due to arrive in Santiago on Saturday, following a four-day caravan from Havana.
Since his failed assault on the Moncada Barracks in 1953, Castro and his group of guerrilla fighters presented themselves as the “Generation of the Centennial,” in reference to the commemoration of 100 years of the birth of José Martí (1853-1895).
“I have in my heart the doctrines of the Master,” Castro said as part of his defense plea following his arrest after the Moncada attack. Earlier during the trial, he also named Martí as the “intellectual author” of the assault.
Construction work to accommodate Castro’s remains at Santa Ifigenia began two years ago in absolute secrecy, according to witnesses who live in the area. It includes a final resting spot for Castro’s ashes and the expansion of a thoroughfare that leads directly to the cemetery.
“Many people who lacked homes criticized the expansion of the Patria Avenue for the dictator’s funeral,” said José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the opposition group, Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).
“No one knows exactly how many people lost their homes due to the expansion of the avenue where the ashes of the tyrant will pass,” he said. “These people were moved to another place and uprooted just for that.”
According to Ferrer, the site where the ashes will be interred remains closed to the public, covered by tarps.
“When Castro’s tomb was being built, the locals who died were buried in the Caney cemetery, five kilometers away from the city, so the public could not see what was under construction,” he said.
María Werlau, founder and director of Archivo Cuba, an institution dedicated to collecting data on Cuban historical memory, said that it is “an atrocity” to try to elevate Castro to the historical level of Martí.
“That is what the regime has always wanted, to present [Castro] as the bearer of Martí’s work, someone who really served his country and gave his life for it,” she said.