7 December 2016 was an epic day. After Fidel Castro’s passing and associated events, Rocío and I looked forward to finally beginning our normal holiday. However, little is normal in Cuba and this day certainly wasn’t.
Singapore Chris who we met outside Fidel’s funeral joined us at Santiago de Cuba’s Avenida de los Libertadores Intermunicipal Bus Station. Trucks and utilities east to Guantanamo and Baracoa leave from here and not the Serrano Intermunicipal Bus Station stated in Lonely Planet’s 2015 guidebook.
Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, where Fidel Castro’s ashes were interred, featured a huge Cuban flag flying at half mast
The nine day mourning period following Fidel Castro’s death culminated with his 4 December 2016 funeral at Santiago de Cuba’s Santa Ifigenia Cemetery. A private affair, only family and select guests attended the event. Fidel’s ashes arrived to the cemetery early that morning having travelled for four days across Cuba from Havana. Continue reading →
After 4 days caravanning across Cuba, Fidel’s ashes arrived to Santiago on 3 December 2016. That evening a second mass rally occurred. Unlike Havana’s international speakers, Santiago’s rally featured only Cuban orators. Some world leaders did attend though including Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro and ex-presidents of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff. Soccer legend Diego Maradona and presidents Jakob Zuma of South Africa and Robert Mugabe were also in attendance although Rocío and I did not see them.
People in front of flagpoles prior to the rally with the Sierra Maestra in the background
The Santiago rally arrangement and procedures were similar to Havana’s including the same master of ceremonies, although the speeches were more domestically focused. Continue reading →
The morning after the 29 November 2016 memorial rally, Fidel’s ashes toured Havana, the beginning of a 4-day cross-country journey east to Santiago de Cuba. The route traced in reverse January 1959’s Caravan of Liberty when Fidel travelled from Santiago to Havana celebrating the end of the Batista dictatorship, the culmination of the Cuban Revolution.
Rocío and I witnessed Fidel’s ashes pass three times, once in Havana on 30 November and twice in Santiago on 3 and 4 December. On all occasions, people lined the streets in anticipation. Officials stood at regular intervals ensuring people remained off the road.
Old Havana, 30 November 2016
Hotel Armadores de Santander in beautiful morning light while crowds wait for ashes, Havana
Early on 30 November we walked from our Old Havana accommodation to coastal Avenida del Puerto (San Pedro) for the caravan. Continue reading →
The day after Fidel Castro’s wake, Rocío and I were back at Plaza de la Revolución for his Havana memorial public rally. With many thousands of people front of stage and world leaders at the back this was a huge, historic event. Following are photos and and my account of the event. Towards the end is Cuban newspaper coverage, video footage and the list of rally speakers.
Many thousands attended the Plaza de la Revolución Rally in front of the José Martí Memorial
Cuba’s national anthem La Bayamesa began the 4 hour long public memorial rally. Then Cuban actor Corina Mestre recited Rebel Army Victory March (Marcha triunfal del Ejército Rebelde) while black and white revolutionary period footage played on the big screens. Next, Master of Ceremonies, Robobaldo Hernández formally introduced the evening and the first foreign speaker, Ecuador’s then president, Rafael Correa. Continue reading →
As mentioned in Granma, people could pay tribute to Fidel Castro on 28 and 29 November 2016 at the José Martí Memorial, part of Havana’s Revolution Square (Plaza de la Revolución). Not wanting to miss anything, on the morning of the 28th, Rocío and I caught an old American car from Old Havana. All roads near the plaza were closed so our expensive taxi fare provided even less value.
Proud East Timorese Students near Plaza de la Revolución, Havana
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruiz was one of the most influential and controversial people of the 20th century. He led Cuba’s communist revolution, ruled the country for almost 50 years and inspired and assisted left-wing movements regionally and globally. Even after handing over presidency to his brother Raul in 2008, Fidel was still regarded as the most powerful person in Cuba.
Saturday was going to be another interesting but normal day exploring Havana for Rocío and I. Instead, in the morning our hosts informed us Fidel had died aged 90 at 10:29pm the previous night (Friday, 25 November 2016). Our plans changed.
Cuban TV Fidel Castro special the day after he died with an email address for people to send in their tributes; the Spanish headline translates as “Ever onward to victory, Fidel!”
Havana’s grand Great Theatre has amazing architecture
Havana is a special city in which anything can happen.
On Thursday, 24 November 2016, Rocío’s and my first full day in Cuba, we were walking along Paseo del Prado, the border between Old Havana and Centro Havana. Coming to the Great Theatre (Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso), we saw a crowd near the entrance. Just as we get there, modern Mercedes Benz sedans (a rarity in Cuba) arrive and out step opera singer Plácido Domingo and wife Marta Domingo.
Plácido Domingo and wife Marta Domingo get out in front of Havana’s Great Theatre