Castro's last stop: inside a cave-like crypt that says 'Fidel'
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 laid to rest in a private ceremony
for family and friends.
His ashes were interred in a crypt next to the 85-foot mausoleum of
Cuban patriot José Martí in the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery.
In contrast to Marti's towering mausoleum, which was completed in 1951,
Castro's crypt was a simple, boulder-like structure. His ashes were slid
into a niche in the stone, and workers sealed the entrance with a metal
covering that said simply Fidel.
Castro's remains join those of fallen rebels who took part in the July
26, 1953, assault on the Moncada Barracks, which marks the start of the
revolution. Other Cuban historic figures also are buried in the cemetery.
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,
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?"
The burial was over shortly before 9 a.m., according to those in attendance.
"There was no speech, it was very somber, only the ashes were buried
before family, members of the government and officials," Segolene Royal,
ecology minister of France, told Agence France-Presse.
Just before 7 a.m., a somber mood spread as mourners of all ages waved
Cuban flags and chanted, "Yo soy Fidel! Yo soy Fidel!"
Cuban state television was offering constant coverage of the island's
farewell to Castro and recalling the life of the revolution's historic
leader, but it did not provide live coverage of the funeral.
Pictures taken by photographers for Cuban state media who were permitted
inside the cemetery during the service captured mourners including Raul
Castro and Castro's wife, Dalia, and his sons, as well as Venezuelan
President Nicolas Maduro and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega of
For the first time in the more than 600-mile odyssey Castro's ashes made
from Havana to Santiago and points in between, the honor guard
accompanying his remains were attired in dress whites for the funeral.
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," said Cruz Maria Pardo, 64, who
worked at the cemetery cleaning the mausoleums for more than 20 years.
She told The Associated Press that she had seen trucks bringing in
materials for a little over a year.
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 state television reported that some
500,000 people attended the event.
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 those gathered in the plaza that his brother wasn't one who wanted a
cult of personality to develop after his death.
"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
death, and a warehouse along the funeral procession route also spelled
out the message in large letters.
"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."
Large billboards with Castro's image also have long been present from
one end of the island to the other, and it was unclear from Raúl
Castro's remarks whether those would remain.
During the nine-day mourning period, the public adulation has reached
staggering levels. But South Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
wasn't impressed. On Sunday morning she tweeted: "Fidel Castro's death
still leaves tyrant Raul oppressing."
Meanwhile, the government has been making the point that the
revolutionary ideas of Castro will continue despite his death.
"Fidel, seed that will keep on germinating," stated the headline on the
Sunday edition of Juventud Rebelde, the newspaper of Cuba's Communist youth.
Granma, the official daily of the Communist Party of Cuba, led with this
headline: "The permanent teaching of Fidel is yes you can."
MIAMI HERALD STAFF WRITER DAVID OVALLE CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT FROM
Source: Fidel Castro's interred after funeral in Cuba | Miami Herald -