SANTA CLARA, Cuba – The remains of Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who will forever be linked as socialist revolutionaries, were briefly reunited in this central city as part of the cross-country funeral procession for the longtime Cuban leader.
Santa Clara was the first stop on a four-day, west-to-east journey that will take Castro’s ashes to the southeastern city of Santiago de Cuba for burial Sunday at the Santa Ifigenia cemetery, which is also the resting place for Cuban independence hero Jose Marti’s remains.
The funeral cortege carrying the cedar wood urn with Castro’s ashes departed Havana early Wednesday, five days after his death at the age of 90.
It followed a route that was lined with large crowds of onlookers and is the inverse of the one the revolutionary leader and his “Freedom Caravan” took in January 1959 after his rebels defeated strongman Fulgencio Batista’s army.
Santiago de Cuba was the site of Castro’s failed July 1953 assault on the Moncada Barracks in the early stages of his revolutionary struggle.
Before arriving in Santa Clara, Castro’s ashes had earlier traveled east through the city of Matanzas past large crowds.
Desiderio Ruiz, who at age 14 witnessed the arrival of the Freedom Caravan in that city, told EFE he vividly remembered when throngs of people poured out into the streets to hear Castro speak on the night of Jan. 7, 1959, a day before his triumphant arrival in Havana.
The people’s spirit on Wednesday was the same as in 1959, he added.
On Wednesday night, Castro’s remains were placed inside the Ernesto Guevara Sculptural Complex, a mausoleum inaugurated in 1997 to house the Argentine-born guerrilla leader’s bones after they had arrived in Cuba.
Guevara, who was shot dead by army soldiers in Bolivia in 1967 while trying to spark a leftist rebellion in that South American country and was initially buried in a mass grave, won a key battle against Batista’s forces in 1958 in Santa Clara.
Castro’s funeral procession, which traveled Thursday to the province of Sancti Spiritus, is due to arrive in Santiago de Cuba on Saturday.