Hundreds of thousands of people with little Cuban flags and photos of Fidel Castro gathered on Saturday evening in the Antonio Maceo Square in Santiago de Cuba for the final farewell to the former president, whose ashes were buried in a private ceremony on Sunday morning.
“Fidel taught us that it was possible, yes you can and yes you can,” said Raul Castro, visibly moved, to the audience. “He taught us that one could resist without renouncing the principles and achievements of socialism.”
The event, the culmination of a four-day caravan of his ashes from the capital to eastern Cuba, was attended by the presidents of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro; Bolivia, Evo Morales; and Daniel Ortega, as well as former presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and former soccer legend Diego Maradona, among others.
“Uu aaa, Fidel is not leaving” and “Raul, my friend, the people are with you”, “I am Fidel” and “Raul is Fidel” were the slogans that were heard over and over again in the square of the colonial city of southeastern Cuba. The Cuban president was greeted with shouts of “Raul, Raul”.
Castro recalled in his speech the difficult moments that the country experienced during the 1990s, when Cuba entered a severe economic crisis after the collapse of the former Soviet Union, and said that at that time and others of his life Fidel Castro “never lost faith in victory.”
The wooden urn with the ashes arrived Saturday to Santiago de Cuba at the end of a of a 4-day, 600-mile journey from Havana, in several stages, during which it passed through towns and cities on a platform attached to a military jeep.
Starting Wednesday thousands of people took to the streets to watch the caravan pass, to the cry of “I am Fidel, I am Fidel”. On Tuesday night a memorial had already taken place with foreign dignitaries in Havana’s Revolution Square.
“Tell me in what country is a president given a sendoff like this, Cubans pay tribute to who deserves it, and Fidel deserves a farewell like this and more,” said Matías Gonzalez, a bus driver who transported people to the event.
“It’s historic, one day I’ll be able to recall that I was here,” said Carlos Martinez, a 16-year-old student in his school uniform.
The former Cuban president, a historical figure with fervent defenders and staunch critics, died on Friday November 25 at age 90. His remains were buried Sunday in a simple ceremony, according to Raul Castro, in the cemetery of Santa Ifigenia of Santiago de Cuba, where Cuban national hero Jose Marti is also buried.
“This is history. Fidel is very big in Latin America, that’s why we have a lot of respect for him,” said Juan Martín Cambra, an Argentinean who was close to the Kirchner movement, and who bought a plane ticket with other friends because they did not want miss the historic moment.