Leftist allies fly in to pay tribute to Cuba's Castro at mass rally
Raul Castro swears allegiance in front of Fidel Castro's urn
By Sarah Marsh | HAVANA
(Reuters) - Leaders of Cuba's leftist allies and other developing
countries arrive in Havana on Tuesday for a mass rally commemorating
Fidel Castro, the rebel who seized power in a 1959 revolution and ruled
the island for half a century.
Castro, who ceded control to his younger brother Raul Castro a decade
ago due to poor health, died on Friday at the age of 90.
For many, especially in Latin America and Africa, he was a symbol of
resistance to imperialism, having ousted a U.S.-backed dictator, and a
champion of the poor. Others condemned him as a tyrant whose socialism
ran the island's economy to ruin.
Cuba announced nine days of mourning, including the rally on Tuesday
evening in Havana's Revolution Square - the same massive space where
Castro once delivered rousing, marathon speeches.
On Tuesday morning, thousands lined up in the square for a second day to
file past Castro's favorite portrait of himself, dressed in military
fatigues and carrying a rifle.
"He has left us physically, but from now on will multiply in the
millions, because we shall follow his ideas," said customs worker
Hipolito Rodriguez, 67, dressed in khaki military fatigues as he waited
for his turn to pay homage.
"He was the father of the nation. It is like losing a beloved relative.
He has left us a legacy we must continue."
Many leaders of Latin America's left, including Venezuelan President
Nicolas Maduro and Bolivian President Evo Morales, flew in to attend the
ceremony. Maduro, speaking on Monday night, paid tribute to Castro's
Also expected are several African leaders such as Zimbabwe's Robert
Mugabe and South Africa's Jacob Zuma. Nelson Mandela, while he was still
alive, repeatedly thanked Castro for his efforts in helping overturn
apartheid in South Africa.
China has sent Vice President Li Yuanchao, and on Tuesday in Beijing,
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the Cuban embassy to pay his
condolences, saying China had lost a "close comrade and real friend",
China's foreign ministry said.
Yet few leaders from the world's major powers are heading to the
Caribbean island, with many sending second tier officials instead to pay
their respects to a man who built a Communist state on the doorstep of
the United States.
Russian President Valdimir Putin has skipped the ceremony to focus on
preparing a major speech. However the Kremlin stressed that Putin, who
described Castro as a "true friend of Russia," held a different view on
his legacy to that of Donald Trump. The U.S. president-elect has called
the Cuban leader "a brutal dictator."
PLEDGES OF LOYALTY
Raul Castro has undertaken some economic reforms in recent years, but
the one-party system remains in place and his government has signaled
clearly that the death of Fidel Castro should not be taken as a sign
that the revolution he launched is over. Cubans have been urged to sign
condolence books and pledges of loyalty to Castro's socialist ideology
at 1,060 tribute sites throughout the country.
"I signed because he was a good man, we loved him a lot, and I wanted to
reaffirm my loyalty to him and his ideas," said Arcide Ge, 56, a
security guard. "He was good to everyone, he sent doctors abroad and
helped the poor here."
All schools and government offices will be closed on Tuesday so that
Cubans can more easily join the rally and other activities to pay homage
to Castro, authorities said.
Tens of thousands of people paid tribute in the square on Monday, some
in tears and others wrapped in the red, white and blue national flag.
Many state employees and school children came together in groups.
Raul Castro, 85, and top government officials held a separate, private
ceremony on Monday, laying white flowers in front of Fidel Castro's
portrait and a box containing his ashes.
On Wednesday, a procession taking Castro's ashes will begin a slow
journey east to Santiago de Cuba, where he launched the revolution. They
will be laid to rest on Sunday, Dec. 4, in the city's Santa Ifigenia
cemetery, also the resting place of independence hero Jose Marti.
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Simon
Gardner, Kieran Murray and Frances Kerry)
Source: Leftist allies fly in to pay tribute to Cuba's Castro at mass
rally | Article [AMP] | Reuters -