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Cuba says goodbye

Trinidad Express / Hundreds of thousands of Cubans bade farewell to Fidel Castro yesterday, pledging allegiance to his socialist ideology and paying tribute before images of the leader as a young guerrilla gazing out over the country he would come to rule for nearly half a century.

Lines stretched for hours outside the Plaza of the Revolution, the massive plaza where Castro delivered fiery speeches to hundreds of thousands of supporters in the years after he seized power. See Page 20.

There and across the country, people signed condolence books and an oath of loyalty to Castro’s sweeping May 1, 2000, proclamation of the Cuban revolution as an unending battle for socialism, nationalism and an outsize role for the island on the world stage.

Tribute sites were set up in hundreds of places across the country as the government urged Cubans to reaffirm their belief in a socialist, single-party system that in recent years has struggled to maintain the fervour that was widespread at the triumph of the 1959 revolution.

Many mourners came on their own, but thousands of others were sent in groups by the communist government, which still employs about 80 per cent of the working people in Cuba despite the growth of the private sector under Castro’s successor, his brother Raul.

Early line-up

 

One of the first in line at the Plaza of the Revolution was Tania Jimenez, 53, a mathematician who arrived at 4 a.m. carrying a rose.

“Fidel is everything to us, the soul of this country who gave everything, all his life,” Jimenez said, in tears.

Sandra Aguilar, a 48-year-old doctor, said her visit to the memorial had two goals: “We came to say goodbye to our commander, to reaffirm our support of the revolution,” she said.

After ten years of leadership by Raul Castro, a relatively camera-shy and low-key successor, Cuba has found itself riveted once again by the words and images of the leader who dominated the lives of generations. Since his death on Friday night, state-run newspapers, television and radio have run wall-to-wall tributes to Fidel Castro, broadcasting non-stop footage of his speeches, interviews and foreign trips, interspersed with adulatory remembrances by prominent Cubans.

Inside the memorial, thousands walked through three rooms with near-identical displays featuring the 1962 Alberto Korda photograph of the young Castro in the Sierra Maestra mountains, bouquets of white flowers and an array of Castro’s medals against a black backdrop, framed by honour guards of uniformed soldiers and children in school uniforms. The ashes of the 90-year-old former president did not appear to be on display.

Over the weekend, ordinary people had largely stayed at home, off streets hushed by a prohibition on music and celebration during the nine days of official mourning for Castro. For some, particularly younger Cubans, Castro’s death barely registered.

Tomorrow, Castro’s ashes will begin a three-day procession east across Cuba, retracing the march of his bearded rebel army from the Sierra Maestra to the capital. The ashes will be interred on Sunday in Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago, Cuba’s second-largest city.

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