Cuba mourns Fidel Castro’s death at age 90

Cuba mourns Fidel Castro’s death at age 90

Cuba mourns Fidel Castro’s death at age 90

AFP Photo

Cuba mourned revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, who built a communist state on the doorstep of the United States and defied U.S. efforts to topple him for five decades, as the island prepared to say its last goodbyes to the towering giant of modern history with mass memorials and a four-day funeral procession.

After the stunned commotion surrounding the Nov. 26 announcement that Castro had died at age 90, Nov. 27 was set to be a day of calm preparations, with no official activities planned.

Castro, whose iron-fisted rule defied the U.S. for half a century, died late Nov. 25 after surviving 11 U.S. administrations and hundreds of assassination attempts.

Castro had been in poor health since an intestinal ailment nearly killed him in 2006. He formally ceded power to his younger brother, Raul, two years later.

Wearing a green military uniform, a somber Raul, 85, appeared on state television on the night of Nov. 25 to announce Fidel’s death, 60 years to the day since the two brothers and dozens of supporters left Mexico on a boat to bring revolution to Cuba against dictator Fulgencio Batista. 

“At 10:29 at night, the chief commander of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz, died,” he said, without giving a cause of death. 

“Ever onward, to victory,” he said, using the slogan of the Cuban revolution. 

The polarizing leader, a titan of the 20th century who beat the odds to endure well into the 21st, was set to be cremated on Nov. 26, the first of nine days of national mourning.

A series of memorials will begin on Nov. 28, when Cubans are called to converge on Havana’s iconic Revolution Square.

Castro’s ashes will then go on a four-day procession through the country, before being buried in the southeastern city of Santiago on Dec. 4.

Santiago, Cuba’s second city, was the scene of Castro’s ill-fated first attempt at revolution in 1953 – six years before he succeeded in ousting U.S.-backed dictator Batista.

Adored by admirers as a savior of the people, reviled by enemies as a cruel tyrant, Castro ruled Cuba from 1959 until he handed power to his younger brother Raul in 2008 amid a health crisis.

There will be no top-level games of baseball – Castro’s passion after politics – for the nine-day mourning period, the sport’s national federation declared. 

Mixed tributes over Castro

A mix of tributes and condemnation poured in from allies and foes around the world. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed him as “the symbol of an era,” and China’s Xi Jinping said “Comrade Castro will live forever.” 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hailed the late Cuban leader as a “relentless warrior,” adding that Castro’s death caused him “great grief and sorrow.”

“In this age – when oppressed nations around the world suffer from violations of the most obvious and fundamental human principles such as peace, justice and freedom – it is fortunate there are free men and warriors who do not give up fighting until the last days of their lives to keep the flag of justice high,” he said in the message.

In contrast to other Western leaders, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau also praised Castro, calling him “larger than life” and “a legendary revolutionary and orator.” Trudeau’s father, former Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau, had been a close friend of Castro and was the first NATO leader to visit communist Cuba.

But in Miami, home to the largest community of exiles who fled Castro’s rule, euphoric crowds erupted into loud celebration.

There were sharply different reactions in the U.S. from outgoing President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump.

“History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him,” Obama said, extending “a hand of friendship” to Cuba. 

Obama’s elected successor, Trump, issued a blunt statement calling Castro “a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades.” 

“Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights,” Trump said. 

Raul Castro, who glorified his older brother, has nonetheless changed Cuba by introducing market-style economic reforms and agreeing with the United States in December 2014 to re-establish diplomatic ties and end decades of hostility. 

With Trump in office, course of US-Cuba relations uncertain 

It is unclear whether Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, 2017, will continue efforts to normalize relations with Cuba or fulfill a campaign promise to close the U.S. embassy in Havana once again. 

Fidel Castro himself offered only lukewarm support for the 2014 deal with Washington, raising questions about whether he approved of ending hostilities with his longtime enemy, a conflict that took the world to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. 

In Havana, bustling streets emptied and parties ground to a halt as Castro’s admirers sank into grief.

“What can I say? Fidel Castro was larger than life,” said a tearful Aurora Mendez, 82.

She recalled a life in poverty before Castro’s revolution in 1959.

“Fidel was always first in everything, fighting for the downtrodden and the poor,” she said.

Turkey sends condolences to Cuba over Fidel Castro’s death 

The Turkish Foreign Ministry conveyed its condolences on the death of Cuba’s iconic leader Fidel Castro, who died on Nov. 25, aged 90. 

“Fidel Castro, who left deep traces in political history and made radical reforms in education, healthcare, art and science, has passed on values that will lead young generations in Cuba,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued on Nov. 26. 

Highlighting Castro’s long-term struggle in Cuba, the statement said his life made an overwhelming impact all over the world and earned prestige even in different political camps. 

The statement recalled Castro’s saying of: “A better world is possible.”

“It reflects a common longing of billions of people from Latin America to Asia, the Middle East to Africa, no matter what political opinion they have,” the statement added. 

On Feb. 11, 2015, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and a delegation accompanying him had visited Cuba in an attempt to boost business and cultural ties. 

It was the second visit of a high-level Turkish delegation to Latin America countries after the first in 1995. 

Erdoğan’s visit had focused on regional and international developments, bilateral relations and signing cooperation agreements in different fields.