The remains of Fidel Castro were laid to rest in a private funeral Sunday at Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in the city of Santiago de Cuba, where Castro launched his revolution decades ago. The Castro funeral ends a nine day period of national mourning in Cuba, the island nation which Fidel Castro ruled for over half a century.
The Castro funeral also ends a four day tour across Cuba, a tour that began in the Cuban capital of Havana and reached it’s destination about 546 miles away in Santiago de Cuba, where Castro’s ashes were to be interred. The journey was a reversal of the route Fidel Castro took across the island in 1959, bringing him full circle from the time he first stepped onto the world stage to the day he finally leaves it.
According to the Mirror, the procession towards the ultimate Castro funeral began with a 21 gun salute in Havana. Along the four day procession, tens of thousands of Cubans lined up to pay their respects, or in some cases to simply witness the end of an era. Many volunteers had come out along the route to the Castro funeral to put a new coat of paint on bridges and tunnels and to clean up the roadways as a sign of respect for the late Cuban leader. In the final, short stretch between the Plaza of the Revolution in Santiago de Cuba to the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery where the Castro funeral took place, thousands packed the streets, singing the national anthem of Cuba and yelling out “Via Fidel!”
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, born August 13, 1926, and better known to the world simply as Fidel Castro, died on November 25. In 1959, he seized power in his native Cuba in a revolution against then Cuban president Fulgencio Batista. In the aftermath and under the leadership of Fidel Castro, Cuba became the first communist country in the Western hemisphere, with diplomatic ties to the Soviet Union. At the time, amid Cold War tensions, the island nation, which is just 90 miles from the shores of the United States becoming a Soviet-allied state was a great shock. The United States often attempted to take steps to remove Fidel Castro from power, like the Bay of Pigs invasion in April of 1961, but where unsuccessful. Castro, always openly defiant of the United States, outlived the Soviet Union itself. A polarizing figure in Cuba and abroad, he is remembered for launching social reforms and fighting against apartheid, but also by many as a strong male dictator.
CNN reports that, though the Castro funeral was private and closed to the press, a great many luminaries from around the world were in attendance. Presidents of Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela were on hand, as well as a delegation from Russia, though Russian president Vladimir Putin was conspicuously absent from the funeral. Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, was also in attendance, and he spoke with Cuban state television on his arrival.
“Fidel wasn’t just your leader, Fidel was the leader of all revolutionaries,” Mugabe said.
Indeed, representatives of revolutionary parties of all kinds came to the Castro funeral. Gerry Adams, the former leader of Sinn Fein, a political party in Ireland who is associated with the Irish liberation movement and the IRA, attended, as did representatives from the FARC, a group who stands in opposition to the recognized government of Columbia. The influence of Fidel Castro in Latin America looms large in this case, however, as officials from the official Columbia government also came to pay their respects.
No leaders from the United States attended, however, despite a thawing of U.S.-Cuban relations in the last few years under the Obama administration.
The Castro funeral marks the end of an era in Cuba and for the Cuban people. For the last half century, the word “Cuba” has been virtually synonymous with the name “Fidel Castro.” As the funeral passes, Cuba and the world will have to navigate a new paradigm and an uncertain future for the island nation just 90 miles from American shores.
[Featured Image by Ramon Espinosa/AP Images]