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.
The Santiago rally arrangement and procedures were similar to Havana’s including the same master of ceremonies, although the speeches were more domestically focused.
Held at Revolution Square (Plaza de la Revolución Antonio Maceo) the impressive statue of Cuban independence hero Antonio Maceo on a rearing horse and even grander 23 machetes sculpture formed the rally backdrop.
Again, like in Havana, we couldn’t get close to the stage with people seated at the front followed by organised groups of students. The closer big screen provided our best view of proceedings.
We positioned close to the press platform and I enjoyed watching the experienced photographers and seeing what they recorded. Who knows where their following assignment would be.
Except for a single occasion when someone blocked Rocío, we felt free to shoot the Santago event, as in Havana.
The rally involved much chanting and flag-waving. Although the audience interaction appeared spontaneous, officials coordinated students at the front of the standing section. This is captured in the following video:
The nine speakers were all leaders of Cuban organisations and spoke passionately about Fidel and what he meant. The full speaker list is at the end of this article.
Cuban President Raúl Castro again spoke last. He sounded tired and this time his speech lasted a far longer 25 minutes.
Below is footage of Jennifer Bello and Raúl Castro addressing the audience and the crowd responding after Raúl’s speech:
The rally ended with a Fidel tribute on the big screen accompanied by the same ending song as Havana.
With fewer speakers, thankfully the Santiago memorial ended sooner than Havana’s 4 hour epic.
Afterwards, people dispersed, journalists recorded interviews and uploaded stories and cleaners came with their brooms and dustpans.
We soon joined the departing crowds and wandered back to our accommodation in central Santiago. Only one official event remained: Fidel’s funeral.
Cuban Newspaper Coverage of the Santiago Memorial Rally
Santiago’s own Sierra Maestra newspaper’s front page rally coverage read: Before Fidel’s remains in Heroic Santiago de Cuba’s Plaza Antonio Maceo, we swear to defend the Homeland and Socialism.
The national Granma newspaper headlined: Fidel’s permanent instruction is that you can.
Speakers at Santiago de Cuba’s Fidel Memorial Rally
- Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, Secretary General of the Cuban Workers’ Federation (CTC)
- Rafael Ramón Santiesteban Pozo, President of the Association of Small Farmers (ANAP)
- Major General José Antonio Carrillo Gómez, President of the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution
- Carlos Rafael Miranda, member of the Party Central Committee and National Coordinator of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR)
- Teresa Amarelle, National Secretary of the Federation of Cuban Women
- Miguel Barnet, President of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba
- Jennifer Bello, President of the University Students’ Federation
- Sucelys Morfa, Secretary of the Young Communists League
- President Raúl Castro, President of Cuba