Friday 15 December 2017

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro's ashes interred in simple tomb

People stand at the entrance of the Santa Ifigenia cemetery where the ashes of Fidel Castro were interred in Santiago, Cuba (AP)
People stand at the entrance of the Santa Ifigenia cemetery where the ashes of Fidel Castro were interred in Santiago, Cuba (AP)
The motorcade carrying the ashes of Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro's ashes have been interred during a private ceremony, ending nine days of mourning for the man who ruled Cuba for nearly half a century.

The military caravan bearing his remains in a flag-draped cedar coffin left the Plaza of the Revolution in the eastern city of Santiago early on Sunday morning, with thousands of people lining the two-mile route to Santa Ifigenia cemetery shouting "Long live Fidel" as the cortege passed by.

Photographs taken by Cuban state media showed the ceremony was led by Castro's younger brother and successor Raul, who wore his green military uniform as he placed the older man's ashes into what appeared to be a niche in his tomb, a simple round stone about 15ft high. The niche was then covered by a plaque bearing the single name "Fidel".

The ceremony was attended by Fidel Castro's wife Dalia Soto del Valle, other members of his family and presidents Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, among others.

It appeared to last about 90 minutes and took place entirely out of the public eye after Cuban officials made a last-minute cancellation of plans to broadcast the start of events live on national and international television. International media were barred from the ceremony.

The tomb stood to the side of a memorial to the rebel soldiers killed in an attack that Castro led on Santiago's Moncada barracks on July 26, 1953, and in front of the mausoleum of Cuban national hero Jose Marti.

Before the ceremony ended, martial music could be heard outside the cemetery, where Ines de la Rosa was among the mourners gathered. She said she would have liked to watch the ceremony on television, but "we understand how they as a family also need a bit of privacy".

The decision to keep the ceremony private came the morning after Raul Castro announced that Cuba would prohibit the naming of streets and monuments after the former leader, and bar the construction of statues of him, in keeping with his brother's wishes.

"The leader of the revolution rejected any manifestation of a cult of personality and was consistent in that through the last hours of his life, insisting that, once dead, his name and likeness would never be used on institutions, streets, parks or other public sites, and that busts, statutes or other forms of tribute would never be erected," Raul Castro told a massive crowd gathered in the eastern city of Santiago.

He said that Cuba's National Assembly would vote in its next session on the law fulfilling the wishes of his brother, who died last week aged 90.

The legislature generally holds a meeting in December and under Cuba's single-party system, parliament unanimously or near-unanimously approves every government proposal.

Fidel Castro, who stepped down in 2006 after falling ill, kept his name off public sites during his near half-century in power because he said he wanted to avoid the development of a personality cult. In contrast, the images of his fellow revolutionary fighters Camilo Cienfuegos and Ernesto "Che" Guevara became common across Cuba in the decades since their deaths.

Mourning for Castro has been fervent and intense across the country since his death, particularly in rural eastern Cuba, where huge crowds have been shouting Castro's name and lining the roads to salute the funeral procession carrying his ashes.

"All of us would like to put Fidel's name on everything but in the end, Fidel is all of Cuba," said Juan Antonio Gonzalez, a 70-year-old retired economist.

"It was a decision of Fidel's, not Raul's, and I think he has to be respected."

AP

Press Association

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