Friday 9 December 2016

Nine days of mourning for Fidel Castro as Cubans look to the future

Michael Weissenstein and Andrea Rodriguez

Published 27/11/2016 | 07:30

People place candles beside a picture of Fidel, as part of a tribute, following the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras November 26, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera
People place candles beside a picture of Fidel, as part of a tribute, following the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras November 26, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera
A man reacts while holding a picture of Fidel, as part of a tribute, following the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras November 26, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera
Palestinian medical student Adham Motawi, with an image of Fidel Castro, holds his head in disbelief during a gathering in Castro's honor in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, the day after his death. Cuba will observe nine days of mourning for the former president who ruled Cuba for half a century. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
An image of Fidel Castro, surrounded by candles and roses, at the university where he studied law as a young man in Havana (AP)

The Cuban government has declared nine days of mourning for Fidel Castro, the revolutionary leader who has died at the age of 90.

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His ashes will be carried across the island from Havana to the eastern city of Santiago in a procession retracing his rebel army's victorious sweep from the Sierra Maestra to the capital.

State radio and television were filled with non-stop tributes to Castro, playing hours of footage of his time in power and interviews with prominent Cubans affectionately remembering him.

Bars shut, baseball games and concerts were suspended and many restaurants stopped serving alcohol and planned to close early. Official newspapers were published on Saturday with only black ink instead of the usual bright red or blue mastheads.

Honduras' former president Manuel Zelaya (2nd L) places candle beside a picture of Fidel, pay tribute, following the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras November 26, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera
Honduras' former president Manuel Zelaya (2nd L) places candle beside a picture of Fidel, pay tribute, following the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras November 26, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

Castro's death was announced on Friday night on state television by his younger brother and successor as president, Raul.

Music fell silent, weddings were cancelled and people wept in the streets the following day as Cubans faced their first day without the leader who steered their island to both greater social equality and years of economic ruin.

Across a hushed capital, dozens of Cubans said they felt genuine pain at the death of Fidel Castro, whose words and image had filled schoolbooks, airwaves and front pages since before many were born.

And in private conversations, they expressed hope that Castro's death will allow Cuba to move faster toward a more open, prosperous future under Raul Castro.

Both brothers led bands of bearded rebels out of the eastern Sierra Maestra mountains to create a communist government 90 miles from the United States.

But since taking over from his ailing brother in 2006, the 85-year-old Raul has allowed an explosion of private enterprise and, last year, restored diplomatic relations with Washington.

"Raul wants the country to advance, to do business with the whole world, even the United States," said Belkis Bejarano, 65, in central Havana. "Raul wants to do business, that's it. Fidel was still holed up in the Sierra Maestra."

In his twilight years Fidel Castro largely refrained from offering his opinions publicly on domestic issues, lending tacit backing to his brother's free-market reforms.

But the older Castro surged back onto the public stage twice this year - discussing President Barack Obama's historic March visit to Cuba and proclaiming in April that communism was "a great step forward in the fight against colonialism and its inseparable companion, imperialism".

Ailing and without any overt political power, he became for some a symbol of resistance to his younger sibling's diplomatic and economic openings.

Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro smokes a cigar during interviews with the press during a visit of U.S. Senator Charles McGovern, in Havana in this May 1975 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro smokes a cigar during interviews with the press during a visit of U.S. Senator Charles McGovern, in Havana in this May 1975 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Cuba's President Fidel Castro looks at the crowd during a mass rally in Cordoba, Argentina July 21, 2006. REUTERS/Andres Stapff/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro fights a yawn on the first day of the VII Ibero-American summit on Margarita Island in this November 8, 1997 file photo. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/File Photo
Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro relaxes in a swimming pool during a visit to Romania in this May 28, 1972 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro (R) and then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (L) exchange documents during a treaty signing ceremony in Havana in this April 4, 1989 file photo. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn/File Photo
Pope Benedict XVI meets former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana in this March 28, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Alex Castro-Cubadebate/Handout/File Photo
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (L) visits his then Cuban counterpart Fidel Castro in Havana in this August 13, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Estudios Revolucion-Granma/Handout/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro smokes a cigar during a meeting of the National Assembly in Havana, in this December 2, 1976 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro (C) casts his ballot at a polling station in Havana in this February 3, 2013 file photo provided by Cubadebate. REUTERS/Ismael Francisco/Cubadebate/Handout/File Photo
Former South African President Nelson Mandela (L) hugs Cuba's President Fidel Castro during a visit to Mandela's home in Houghton, Johannesburg in this September 2, 2001 file photo. REUTERS/Chris Kotze/File Photo
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (L) talk during a meeting in Havana in this March 30, 2011 file photo. The woman in the center is a translator. REUTERS/Alex Castro/Courtesy of Cubadebate/Handout/File Photo
Ernesto Che Guevara (front) plays golf as Fidel Castro stands behind him at Colina Villareal in Havana in this undated file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro (R) winks at a woman at the graduation of hundreds of Cuban art students at Havana's Sports City in this October 28, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro addresses the audience during an event with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez on Havana's Revolution Square in this February 3, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
Former Cuban President Fidel Castro listens during a meeting with his brother Cuban President Raul Castro (R) and Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez (L) in Havana in this June 17, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Estudios Revolucion/Handout/File Photo
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and then Cuban President Fidel Castro (R) listen to the Cuban national anthem at the baseball stadium "Latinoamericano" in Havana in this May 14, 2002 file photo. REUTERS/Rafael Perez/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro walks to the podium during the May Day commemoration ceremony in Revolution Square in Havana in this May 1, 2004 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro salutes as the national anthem plays during a reception for the Cuban baseball team in Havana in this March 21, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro talks to then Pope John Paul II during the presentation of their delegations at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana in this January 22, 1998 file photo. REUTERS/Paul Hanna/File Photo
People are seen through a poster with a picture of Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro and late Argentine revolution leader Che Guevara (L) during the May Day parade in Havana's Revolution Square in this May 1, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan/File Photo
Fidel Castro (L) is seen during a hunting trip in Romania in this May 1972 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Cuba's President Fidel Castro (L) talks to Elian Gonzalez during a political rally in celebration of Elian's 12th birthday in Cardenas, Cuba in this December 6, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro acknowledges the applause of the audience while standing underneath an image of late revolutionary hero Ernesto Che Guevara, during the inauguration of games involving mainly Cuban and Venezuelan athletes in Havana in this June 17, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro (L) holds up the arm of his brother, Cuba's President Raul Castro, during the closing ceremony of the sixth Cuban Communist Party (PCC) congress in Havana in this April 19, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan/File Photo
Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro attends manoeuvres during the 19th anniversary of his and his fellow revolutionaries arrival on the yacht Granma, in Havana in this November 1976 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro plays baseball in Havana in this August 1964 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Cuba's President Fidel Castro addresses the audience during an anti-Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) meeting in Havana in this April 28, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo/Files
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro addresses the audience during a political rally in celebration of the 12th birthday of Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez in Cardenas in this December 6, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro laughs during the year-end session of the Cuban parliament in Havana in this December 23, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro (R) and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez chat on the field after taking part in a friendly baseball game between their two countries at the Barquisimeto baseball stadium in this October 29, 2000 file photo. Picture taken October 29, 2000. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/Files
Cuba's President Fidel Castro attends a Mercosur trade bloc summit in Cordoba, Argentina in this July 21, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/David Mercado/File Photo
Cuba's President Fidel Castro gestures during a tour of Paris in this March 15, 1995 file photo. Ailing Cuban leader Castro said on February 19, 2008 that he will not return to lead the country, retiring as head of state 49 years after he seized power in an armed revolution. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Files
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro speaks during celebrations to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) in Havana in this September 28, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro (L) and Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona play with a ball during an interview in La Havana, in this October 26, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Canal 13/Handout/File Photo
Iin this Feb. 6, 1959 file photo, Cuba's leader Fidel Castro speaks to a crowd during his triumphant march to Havana after the fall of the Batista regime. Former President Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half century rule, has died at age 90. The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died eight years after ill health forced him to formally hand power over to his younger brother Raul, who announced his death late Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, on state television. (AP Photo/File)
Fidel Castro, left, raises his brother's hand, Cuba's President Raul Castro, center, as they sing the anthem of international socialism during the 6th Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba.(AP Photo/Javier Galeano, File)
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro glances over his shoulder during the May Day commemoration at Revolution Square in Havana, in this May 1, 2004 file photo. Picture taken May 1, 2004. REUTERS/Rafael Perez/Files
Cuba's President Fidel Castro addresses the crowd at the Plaza de la Patria (Homeland Square) in Bayamo, Cuba, July 26, 2006. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro listens to a speaker during the May Day parade in Havana's Revolution Square in this May 1, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez (L) and his Cuban counterpart Fidel Castro joke after joining their medallions, given by medical graduates, at Havana's Karl Marx theatre, in this August 20, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro addresses the audience as president of the Non-Aligned Movement at the United Nations in New York, in this October 12, 1979 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro (L) and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez joke during a batting session where Chavez pitched to Castro after taking part in a friendly baseball game between their two countries at the Barquisimeto baseball stadium in this October 29, 2000 file photo. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/File Photo
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro attends the closing ceremony of the sixth Cuban Communist Party (PCC) congress in Havana in this April 19, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan/File Photo
In this March 14, 1957 file photo, Fidel Castro, the young anti-Batista guerrilla leader, center, is seen with his brother Raul Castro, left, and Camilo Cienfuegos, right, while operating in the Mountains of Eastern Cuba. Cuban President Raul Castro has announced the death of his brother Fidel Castro at age 90 on Cuban state media on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew St. George, File)
In this Aug.18, 1999 file photo, Cuba's leader Fidel Castro gestures at a speaking event as he explains that he does not understand why he is not blind after all the camera flashes he has received in Havana, Cuba. Former President Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half century rule, has died at age 90. The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died eight years after ill health forced him to formally hand power over to his younger brother Raul, who announced his death late Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, on state television. (AP Photo/Jose Goitia, File)
In this April 19, 2016 file photo, Fidel Castro attends the last day of the 7th Cuban Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba. Fidel Castro formally stepped down in 2008 after suffering gastrointestinal ailments and public appearances have been increasingly unusual in recent years. Cuban President Raul Castro has announced the death of his brother Fidel Castro at age 90 on Cuban state media on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. (Ismael Francisco/Cubadebate via AP, File)
China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (L) writes in a notebook as former Cuban leader Fidel Castro holds it during a meeting in Havana in this August 1, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Roberto Chile/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro attends a conference on terrorism in Havana's convention centre June 3, 2005. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo/File Photo
Cuba's President Raul Castro announces the death of his brother, revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in a still image from government television in Havana, Cuba November 26, 2016. Cuban Television via Reuters TV
FILE - In this Jan. 25, 1998 file photo, Cuba's leader Fidel Castro, left, greets former Pope John Paul II at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. Former President Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half century rule, has died at age 90. The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died eight years after ill health forced him to formally hand power over to his younger brother Raul, who announced his death late Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, on state television. (AP Photo/Ruth Fremson, File)

For many other Cubans, however, Fidel Castro was fading into history, increasingly at a remove from the passions that long cast him as either messianic saviour or maniacal strongman.

On Saturday, many Cubans on the island described Fidel Castro as a towering figure who brought Cuba free healthcare, education and true independence from the US.

But they also said he saddled the country with an ossified political and economic system that has left streets and buildings crumbling and young, educated elites fleeing in search of greater prosperity abroad.

"Fidel was a father for everyone in my generation," said Jorge Luis Hernandez, a 45-year-old electrician.

"I hope that we keep moving forward because we are truly a great, strong, intelligent people. There are a lot of transformations, a lot of changes, but I think that the revolution will keep on in the same way and always keep moving forward."

In 2013, Raul Castro announced that he would step aside by the time his current presidential term ends in 2018, and for the first time named an heir-apparent not from the revolutionary generation - Miguel Diaz-Canel, 56.

For many Cubans in the US, Castro's death was cause for celebration. In Miami, the heart of the Cuban diaspora, thousands of people banged pots with spoons, waved Cuban and US flags in the air and whooped in jubilation.

"We're not celebrating that someone died, but that this is finished," said 30-year-old Erick Martinez, who emigrated from Cuba four years ago.

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