Cuba has prepared Fidel Castro’s final public appearance: a two-day memorial offering at Revolution Square in Havana.
Beginning Wednesday, his ashes will be transported eastward across the country, in a three-day procession that follows in reverse the route taken by the young revolutionary and his rebel fighters as they advanced on Havana from the Sierra Maestra mountains before taking power in January 1959.
“It’s a kind of symbolic closure to his rule. … The Castro era began with the triumph of the revolution and Fidel’s march across the country. Now he’s gone and they retrace that route, and the Cubans of this era have a chance to say goodbye,” William LeoGrande, an American University professor of Latin American politics, told AP.
Memorial services began Monday in the capital and in the eastern city of Santiago, where Castro started the Cuban revolution in 1953.
Mourners, voluntary and otherwise
Although many mourners visited tribute sites on their own, thousands were sent by the communist government that employees 80% of the Cuba population.
Leftist leaders from around the world have traveled to Cuba to pay respects and show support to the Cuban people.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao arrived Tuesday in Havana for a mass rally commemorating Castro’s life.
African leaders including Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma are also expected to arrive in Cuba.
But reports say that few major world head of states are traveling to the Caribbean island. Many countries are sending second-tier senior officials to pay homage.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who called Castro a “true friend of Russia,” said he needed to focus on preparing a major speech and was not traveling to the island.
White House officials said President Barack Obama asked Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the president’s nominee to be ambassador to Havana, to represent the United States at the late Cuban leader’s funeral.
The 90-year-old Castro died Friday after a long illness. A cause of death has not been announced.
Castro was cremated Saturday, and a nine-day period of mourning was declared. His ashes will be buried Sunday in Santiago de Cuba.
Castro, raised near Santiago de Cuba, launched his revolt against the rule of Fulgencio Batista in 1953 from the southeastern city, finally toppling the U.S.-backed leader and seizing power in 1959. He set up a one-party socialist government, which constantly defied Washington and allied itself with the former Soviet Union.
Castro handed power to his brother Raul in 2006, although he still exercised some power behind the scenes until recent years.
Fidel Castro was a controversial and divisive world figure. He was decorated with various international awards, and his supporters laud him as a champion of socialism, anti-imperialism, and humanitarianism, whose revolutionary regime secured Cuba’s independence from American imperialism.
Conversely, critics view him as a totalitarian dictator whose administration oversaw multiple human-rights abuses, an exodus of more than one million Cubans, and the impoverishment of the country’s economy.