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.
Outside the cemetery a crowd of Cubans and foreigners gathered to either pay tribute to Fidel or, like Rocío and I, to see history occurring. With us were many international journalists and camera crew interviewing locals and reporting.
Video from adjacent the cemetery on the day of Fidel’s funeral
When a 21 gun salute rang out, locals began singing Cuba’s national anthem and then chanting pro-Fidel slogans.
Foreign visitors included communists, fans of Fidel, event-seekers and people who happened to be in Cuba at the right time. Included in the latter were two Turkish flight attendants and Singapore Chris.
For most of the morning we mulled around as journalists interviewed Cubans and sporadic chants erupted.
For a brief period we were told to get off the road for some vehicles to pass. However, our hopes of seeing something exciting were dashed and people gradually drifted off.
The cemetery reopened to the public that afternoon although Rocío and I visited the following day, Monday 5 December. We queued with others, primarily locals, wanting to see Fidel’s tomb next to José Martí’s mausoleum.
Even without Fidel’s presence, Santa Ifigenia Cemetery is notable. We also visited Buena Vista Social Club’s Compay Segundo’s grave and witnessed the changing of the ceremonial guards at José Martí’s mausoleum.
As expected, the funeral and related events dominated the following day’s Cuban newspaper coverage. Also of note was Raúl Castro’s decision to prohibit the naming of streets and monuments after Fidel Castro and the construction of statues of him, ostensibly to stop a cult of personality developing. From observation, I suggest Cuba already has a Fidel cult of personality but this decision would stop organisations and towns currying favour by outdoing each other in Fidel’s name.
After 9 days centred around Fidel’s death and associated events, Rocío and I were happy to get back to regular travel, although nothing in Cuba is normal.