Burial underway for Fidel Castro in Cuba
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
SANTIAGO DE CUBA
As a new day dawned Sunday in this city, the launching site for the
Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro was being laid to rest in a private
ceremony for family and friends.
His ashes were to be interred in a crypt next to the 85-foot mausoleum
of Cuban patriot José Martí in the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery.
Castro's remains will join those of fallen rebels who took part in the
assault on the Moncada Barracks, the attack that marks the start of the
revolution, and other Cuban historic figures also are buried in the
Thousands of mourners had kept vigil at the plaza overnight and then
fanned out to surrounding streets to watch the passing of Castro's ashes
one last time as the sun began turning the sky pink early Sunday.
"I've been here since yesterday morning," said Ernesto Echevarria, 44, a
who works at the University of Oriente. "I just left for some coffee and
now I'm back to watch the funeral procession. I didn't sleep a bit."
Echevarria, who sported a 26th of July armband made by university
students, said he decided to keep the vigil because of a "sense of
commitment. How could you miss a day like this?"
Just before 7 a.m., Cuban state TV described a somber morning, with
mourners of all ages waving Cuban flags, chants heard in the background.
"Yo soy Fidel! Yo soy Fidel! That's what we're hearing on this sad day,"
the correspondent said while the screen showed a rudimentary map of the
On the ground, the funeral procession arrived at the cemetery at 6:50
a.m., following the short 10-minute trip from the plaza. The Cuban
military kicked off the private ceremony with a 21-gun artillery salute.
Just before 8 a.m., Cuban television showed images of his ashes, in a
box wrapped in a Cuban flag, carefully being lifted from atop an
olive-green trailer towed by a military jeep. Two soldiers,
goose-stepping, carried the ashes into the cemetery in front of a row of
The cemetery is located in the northwestern part of Santiago, close to
the bay. Castro's tomb had been a long-guarded secret. Construction
began about two years ago, according to those who live nearby.
Cuban officials have said nothing about future access to Castro's tomb,
but its apparent location alongside Marti's, a grand site heavily
visited by tourists and Cubans alike, indicates that there will be some
form of public access to the grave.
"It's a privilege to have him here," Cruz Maria Pardo, 64, who worked at
the cemetery cleaning the mausoleums for more than 20 years and said she
had seen trucks bringing in materials for a little over a year, told the
Beyond Cuban patriots, martyrs, celebrities and other important figures,
Santa Ifigenia also houses the remains of prominent members of families
who fled after the revolution such as Emilio Bacardi Moreau, who managed
his family's rum dynasty and died in 1922. The Bacardi family left Cuba
in the early years of the revolution after their properties were
nationalized by the Castro government.
The funeral service followed a night in which leaders of Cuban mass
organizations from the Cuban Federation of Women to the Federation of
University Students rose one by one to remember Castro at the Plaza of
the Revolution Antonio Maceo.
Cuban leader Raúl Castro, who took over for his brother when Castro fell
ill in 2006, was the final speaker of the homage Saturday night.
He told the tens of thousands of Cubans gathered in the plaza that his
brother wasn't one who wanted a cult of personality to develop after his
death. Even as the four-day caravan transporting Castro's ashes across
the island was broadcast live on national television, the burial was
not. International media were also barred from the private ceremony.
"The leader of the revolution rejected any manifestation of a cult
personality and was consistent with that through the last hours of his
life, insisting that once dead, his name and likeness would never be
used on institutions, streets, parks or other public sites, and that
busts, statues or other forms of tribute would not be erected," Raúl
Castro said at the Saturday rally.
He added that legislation would be introduced in the next session of the
National Assembly of People's Power, Cuba's parliament, to that effect.
But the interlude since Castro's death, announced by Raúl Castro on Nov.
25, gives the impression that a cult of personality has already
developed. Cubans who lined the highways to watch the passage of a
caravan carrying Castro's ashes from Havana to Santiago hugged portraits
of Castro and painted "Fidel Vive" (Fidel Lives) on their faces.
"Yo soy Fidel" [I am Fidel] has become a national mantra since Castro's
"Why 'Yo Soy Fidel'? Fidel did everything for this country. Even though
he's now dead, we would die for the same causes," said Ernesto Lao, a
technical professor. "My name is Ernesto, but now my name is Fidel."
MIAMI HERALD STAFF WRITER DAVID OVALLE CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT FROM
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