A subdued Cuba comes to grips with news of Fidel Castro's death
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
He was a master of stagecraft until the end.
Fidel Castro's death, announced Friday night, came on the same day in
1956 — Nov. 25 — when he, his brother Raúl, Che Guevara and 79 other
revolutionaries boarded a decrepit cabin cruiser in Mexico under the
cover of darkness and headed to Cuba to resume the armed struggle
against the Batista dictatorship.
Most of the revolutionaries aboard the Granma vessel were quickly killed
after making landfall in Cuba. But Fidel, Raúl and Che, who holed up in
the Sierra Maestra, waged a guerrilla campaign that ousted Batista and
propelled Fidel to power and gave him absolute control.
And it is Castro's past as a revolutionary firebrand that will figure
heavily in Cuba's plans to mark the passing of the man who loomed larger
than life in Cuban politics for more than six decades and inspired
passion — both admiration and revulsion.
Although many Cuban exiles, who took to the streets of Miami late Friday
and Saturday, to celebrate the demise of the dictator, would have
preferred a different, perhaps more violent denouement to the life and
times of Fidel Castro, in death his timing was also impeccable.
He survived until his 90th year — something he called "a whim of fate,"
rather than anything he himself was responsible for, and lived to see
the special tributes and historical events that were carried out for an
entire year leading up to his Aug. 13 birthday.
He even managed to say farewell to the nation during the Cuban Communist
Party's VII Congress in April, when he addressed the gathering in a
faltering voice: "Soon I will be like everyone else. We all face the
same fate. … This may be one of the last times I speak in this hall."
"It's a shame that Fidel died peacefully in a bed without being tried
for all the crimes he committed against the Cuban people," Felix
Rodriguez, 75, said on Saturday in Miami. Rodriguez, a Bay of Pigs
veteran, helped in the 1967 capture of Guevara, who was subsequently
executed in Bolivia.
"Unfortunately, at this point, power has been consolidated by his
brother. There won't be a big change in Cuba; I wish this had happened
years ago. But it's the death of an evil man," Rodriguez said.
Castro also lived long enough to see a rapprochement between the United
States and Cuba — although he was lukewarm to the process.
President Barack Obama, who met Raúl Castro but not Fidel, during his
March visit to Cuba — the first by a U.S. president since January 1928,
offered his condolences to the Castro family: "Our thoughts and prayers
are with the Cuban people. In the days ahead, they will recall the past
and also look to the future.
"At this time of Fidel Castro's passing, we extend a hand of friendship
to the Cuban people," the president said. "We know that this moment
fills Cubans — in Cuba and in the United States — with powerful
emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the
course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation," Obama
said. "History will record and judge the enormous impact of this
singular figure on the people and world around him."
Health permitting, Castro tried to stay politically engaged until the
end. As recently as mid-November he met with Vietnam's President Tran
Dai Quang in Havana and in recent months received other world leaders.
Castro was to be cremated Saturday, according to his wishes, said Raúl
Castro, who announced his brother's death to the nation in a national TV
broadcast around midnight that lasted just over a minute.
The government declared nine days of mourning that began at 6 a.m.
Saturday and will continue until noon on Sunday, Dec. 4 when Castro's
ashes will be buried at Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba,
"the heroic city" and so-called "cradle" of the Cuban Revolution.
Many Cubans were unaware of Castro's passing at 10:39 p.m. until they
awoke to the news Saturday morning.
"Santiago is sleeping. The majority of Santiagueros that woke up with
hunger and fatigue didn't know about the death of Fidel Castro," said
José Daniel Ferrer, the leader of the dissident group Unión Patriótica
de Cuba. "Besides, he has been thought to be dead so many times."
In an early morning conversation with el Nuevo Herald, he said he feared
more repression against dissidents.
As condolences poured into Cuba from world leaders, many evoked Castro's
"He embodied the Cuban Revolution," said French President François Hollande.
His ashes will be placed in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana where
Cubans will be able to pay their respects on Monday and Tuesday, and on
Wednesday the ashes will begin a journey that along the same path of the
1959 Caravana de La Libertad when Castro and the revolutionaries marched
in triumph from eastern Cuba into the capital.
But this time, the caravan will take Castro's remains back to where it
"Hasta la victoria siempre," Raúl Castro said during his announcement to
the nation. (Onward to victory, always.)
The ashes will end up in Santiago de Cuba on Dec. 3 where a mass
gathering is planned for the population at the Antonio Maceo Plaza. His
ashes will be interred the next day at 7 a.m.
As news of Castro's death spread, reaction was more swift on social
media that on the streets of Cuba.
"Many in Havana still don't know, the streets vacant, in my building...
silence," Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez, who directs the independent
digital news site 14ymedio, commented on Twitter.
Charlie Serrano, a Chicago businessman who has been taking political and
business groups to the island for the past 24 years, said it was a quiet
Saturday morning in Havana, in contrast to the raw emotion on display in
"It was a typical Saturday morning, very calm. People were going about
their business, but they weren't gathering in the streets. You could
tell they were aware that something had happened," Serrano said by phone
There was no music playing — the usual backdrop of life in Havana — no
light-hearted banter, he said.
Havana's José Martí International Airport was operating normally and
flights heading to Cuba from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International
Airport were leaving on time Saturday morning. Regularly scheduled
service to Havana from Miami International Airport will begin Monday but
charter flights to and from Cuba were operating normally.
Serrano saw off a group of American educators at the Havana airport
Saturday. He said the mood was subdued but nothing out of the ordinary
was going on. He said it appeared the Cuban state was making an effort
so that Castro's death wasn't disruptive. "I think that is the way that
Fidel Castro would have wanted it to happen."
Seventeen-year-old Maria Ricardo, of Tampa, returned on one of the
charters Saturday morning after visiting her aunt on the island. She
told the Miami Herald the streets in Cuba were quiet when she left.
She woke up to the news on the radio. "My aunt was crying
uncontrollably; that's always been her president," said Ricardo. "They
played Castro's favorite songs, really sad music."
Many of the passengers arriving in Miami from Cuba didn't want to talk
about Castro's death.
"We're not supposed to talk about this," one man said. "At the airport
in Havana people were quiet and hushed. I found out by the taxi-cab
driver who told me to keep my reaction to myself. We aren't allowed to
speak our minds there, but just know that I am the happiest man alive."
Another passenger questioned the euphoria being expressed in Miami. "He
is a human being. Why would we ever celebrate someone's death. No matter
if they're your enemy?"
The Coast Guard in Miami said the agency had not implemented any
extraordinary measures in the wake of Castro's death or seen any
evidence of a sudden Cuban migrant exodus.
"There is nothing out of the normal parameters," said Jonathan Lally, a
Coast Guard spokesman. "We are continuing our mission, interdicting
migrants. We haven't changed our mission."
Monroe County's Emergency Management also was monitoring the situation
in Cuba because Key West sits just 90 miles from Cuba and has
experienced waves of Cuban migrants in the past. Director Marty
Senterfitt said Saturday that there were no indications of a mass
migration underway nor any expectations that one would occur.
Miami Herald staffers Monique O. Madan and Luisa Yanez and el Nuevo
Herald staffers Nora Gámez Torres and Alfonso Chardy contributed to this
Source: A subdued Cuba comes to grips with news of Fidel Castro's death
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