SANTIAGO DE CUBA – The mortal remains of Fidel Castro arrived on Saturday in the city of Santiago de Cuba, where he will be laid to rest this Sunday, and where the Cuban people can bid the former leader their final farewell at a massive ceremony this afternoon.
The funeral cortege, which took the same route but in the opposite direction as that taken by the 1959 “Freedom Caravan,” entered the eastern capital through the town of El Cobre, site of the image of Our Lady of Charity, Cuba’s patroness, considered the protector of the island’s fighters for independence.
Lining both sides of the Central Highway, thousands of Santiago residents greeted the funeral procession with cheers while waving the Cuban flag and portraits of the ex-president, a scene constantly repeated during the four days it took the caravan to cross the island almost from end to end.
The crowds waved multiple red-and-black banners of the July 26 Movement, the rebel group commanded by Fidel, which had a strong presence in Santiago during the three years the Cuban Revolution was fought, and which ended in victory in 1959.
Named the “Hero City” by the Cuban government, the city was the scene of bloody battles between the underground fighting Fulgencio Batista, and was one of the most important bastions of Fidel’s “Rebel Army” because of its proximity to the guerrilla stronghold in the Sierra Maestra mountains.
The city is also very connected to Castro’s early days, because located there are the Moncada barracks, where his failed attack marked the beginning of the Castro insurgency.
The cedar urn containing the commander-in-chief’s ashes was carried through the principal streets of the eastern capital, also called “the Cradle of the Revolution,” until the cortege arrived at Moncada.
From there it will be taken in the afternoon to the Antonio Maceo Plaza for the final massive farewell ceremony, attended by international delegations and which will end with an address by the leader’s younger brother and current president of Cuba, Raul Castro.
On Sunday at 7:00 am local time, the ashes will be carried for the last time through the city, and in an intimate ceremony, to which the media will probably not be admitted, will be interred at the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, where he will be laid to rest next to Cuba’s National Hero, Jose Marti.