HAVANA – Thousands of Cubans returned on Monday to march in Havana’s emblematic Revolution Square, but this time it is for giving a last farewell to Fidel Castro and paying tribute to him with a ceremony of mourning, full of sobriety and symbolism, together with numerous international delegations that in the coming hours will also arrive in the city to pay respect to the leader of the Cuban Revolution.
Perfectly organized in a very long queue, which did not stop flowing throughout the day, people of all ages and professions came to the Jose Marti Memorial to say goodbye to the “Commander in Chief,” under a giant banner bearing his portrait from his guerrilla days in Sierra Maestra, flanked by white flowers and decorations, and guarded by the Ceremony Battalion of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.
In contrast to the former massive acts of revolutionary exaltation, military parades, anti-imperialist acts or the bustling Labor Day marches, on Monday this iconic square saw serious countenances, silence, watery eyes and sobbing voices.
“Fidel made me who I am,” said Carlos Fernandez, a Havana engineer who was struggling to hold back his tears when he remembered how he joined Fidel Castro’s revolutionary project in his youth, convinced that he could overcome the island’s backwardness and underdevelopment.
So far, about 20 presidents and prime ministers from all around the world have confirmed their attendance at the ceremony on Tuesday, in addition to the delegations led by lower-ranking officials such as presidents of parliaments and foreign ministers.
As expected, the ideological and economic allies of Cuba will join the event: the Bolivarian presidents of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro; Bolivia, Evo Morales; Ecuador, Rafael Correa; and Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega.
Other presidents from Latin American nations that will also travel to Havana include Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos, Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto, Panama’s Juan Carlos Varela, El Salvador’s Salvador Sanchez Ceren, and Honduras’ Juan Orlando Hernandez.
In addition, the King emeritus of Spain, Juan Carlos I; the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras; South African President Jacob Zuma and Canadian Governor David Johnston are among the other dignitaries who will come and pay respect to Castro.
But there are also prominent absences, such as that of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who claimed to have a “rather busy agenda” and will not be present in the farewell of Castro, the Revolutionary who, with the help of the Soviet Union, turned this Caribbean island into a spearhead of communism situated just a few kilometers from the United States.
The flood of journalists who landed in Cuba eager to tell the historical moment exceeded all expectations and officials of the Foreign Ministry, who regularly pay special attention to the international press, are struggling to accredit them all.
The official ceremony is expected to start at 19:00 local time Tuesday (0000 GMT), although that is the only information that has been released so far by the Cuban authorities.
On Wednesday, the ashes of Fidel Castro will make a 4-day trip around the island to Santiago de Cuba. The trip will take the reverse route of the famous “Caravan of Freedom,” in which the rebels of the Sierra Maestra crossed the country from Santiago de Cuba when the Cuban Revolution triumphed in 1959.
The burial ceremony of his ashes will take place on Sunday, Dec. 4, in the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, the same place as the Cuban hero Jose Marti.