[Fidel’s Passing, Part 3 of 6] World Leaders Flock to Fidel Castro’s Havana Memorial Rally


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

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.

Rocío stretching above crowd to record the then Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa Delgado

Rocío stretching above crowd to record the then Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa

Getting close to the stage was not possible. In front was open lawn, then sitting local dignitaries and military, a fence, and behind that, a soft barrier of standing military and students. We got as close as we could. Rocío wanted a good view of the podium.

The then South African President Jacob Zuma on the big screen in front of the José Martí Memorial sculpture

The then South African president Jacob Zuma on one of the big screens in front of the José Martí Memorial sculpture

African leaders were well represented. Cuba provided military and medical support for several African conflicts, most notably in Angola.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras speaking at Fidel's Havana memorial

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras speaking at Fidel’s Havana memorial

Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s prime minister, was the only EU and Western speaker.

Iran's then Vice President for Legal Affairs, Majid Ansari, speaking at the rally

Iran’s then vice president for legal affairs, Majid Ansari speaking at the rally

World leaders and representatives at Fidel's Havana memorial rally

World leaders and representatives at Fidel’s Havana memorial rally

Interpreters translated foreign language speeches into Spanish for the audience. The foreign leaders and representatives also had access to other language translations.

Chairwoman of Vietnam's National Assembly, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, was the sole female speaker

Chairwoman of Vietnam’s National Assembly, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, was the sole female foreign speaker

Bolivian President Evo Morales speaking

Bolivian president Evo Morales speaking

Façades of deceased Cuban Revolution heroes Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos shine behind the huge memorial rally crowd

Façades of deceased Cuban Revolution heroes Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos shine behind the huge memorial rally crowd

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega speaking in front of world leaders and representatives

Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega speaking in front of world leaders and representatives

Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega gave the longest and slowest speech, speaking longer than 30 minutes. Cuba had supported him and his fellow Sandinistas in Nicaragua since the late 1960s. The beginning of Ortega’s speech was obviously planned in advance. Ortega asked the crowd 3 times, “Where is Fidel” (¿Dónde está fidel?) and the crowd responded, “Here” (Aquí). Then, a section of the audience started chanting, “I am Fidel” (Yo soy Fidel), which was taken up by the whole crowd and the words appeared on the big screens. The video below includes this sequence.

Students and soldiers stand ahead, some looking behind after a person collapsed

Students and soldiers stand ahead, some looking behind after a person collapsed

Standing up in a large crowd for 4 hours on a balmy Havana night was physically challenging and a person nearby collapsed. The high school students around us actually arrived hours before the rally began.

The Plaza de la Revolución rally crowd and stage setup featuring dual big screens

The Plaza de la Revolución rally crowd and stage setup featuring dual big screens

Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela's President speaks; we had partially blocked view of the stage

Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s president speaks; we had partially blocked view of the stage

Venezuela is Cuba’s strongest ally and their president, Nicolás Maduro was the final foreign speaker. Fidel and Venezuela’s previous president, Hugo Chavez were very close and it seemed Maduro mentioned “Chavez” almost as much as “Fidel”.

Raúl Castro was the final speaker at his brother's Havana memorial rally

Raúl Castro was the final speaker at his brother’s Havana memorial rally

In contrast to Ortega and Maduro, and particularly Fidel’s epic addresses, Raúl Castro’s speech was succinct.

The rally ended with a audio visual tribute to Fidel featuring archive video footage

The rally ended with a audio visual tribute to Fidel featuring archive video footage

A second video tribute of Fidel completed formalities. This one included footage of him with world leaders and other famous people including Maradona, popes, Muhammad Ali and Nelson Mandela.

A green rose ended the Fidel video montage and memorial rally

A green rose ended the Fidel video montage and memorial rally

Military depart their seated section at the front of the rally

Military depart their seated section at the front of the rally

Young people in military uniform depart the rally

Students from military schools (EMCC) depart the rally

Rubbish on the plaza in front of Fidel's image on Cuba's National Library

Rubbish on the plaza in front of Fidel’s image on Cuba’s National Library

The audience left a huge amount of rubbish in the plaza and as we departed trucks arrived with men holding brooms standing the back, ready to the clean the area.

Newspaper Report

The following day’s Juventud Rebelde (Rebellious Youth) newspaper headline reads, “When Cuba became Fidel” (Cuando Cuba se hizo Fidel). Inside pages contain all the memorial speeches.

The next day's Juventud Rebelde newspaper leads with the headline "When Cuba became Fidel"

The next day’s Juventud Rebelde newspaper leads with the headline “When Cuba became Fidel”

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Video Footage

Video from the memorial rally:

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Speaker List

The list of memorial rally speakers in order and their then positions:

  1. Corina Mestre, Cuban actor
  2. Robobaldo Hernández, Master of Ceremonies
  3. Rafael Correa Delgado, President of Ecuador
  4. Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa
  5. Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of the Dominican Republic
  6. Salvador Sánchez Cerén, President of El Salvador
  7. Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of Greece
  8. Abdelkader Bensalah, Council of the Nation President, Algeria
  9. Li Yuanchao, Vice President of China
  10. Majid Ansari, Vice President of Legal Affairs, Iran
  11. Vyacheslav Volodin, Chairman of the State Duma, Russia
  12. Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, Chairwoman of the National Assembly, Vietnam
  13. Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, former Emir and representative of Qatar
  14. Viktor Sheiman, special envoy of Belarus
  15. Evo Morales, President of Bolivia
  16. Hage Geingob, President of Namibia
  17. Enrique Peña Nieto, President of Mexico
  18. Daniel Ortega, President of Nicaragua
  19. Nicolás Maduro, President of Venezuela
  20. Raúl Castro, President of Cuba and Fidel’s brother

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Footnote: countries with representatives speaking at the rally have a median 2017 Press Freedom Index ranking of 128.5 out of 180.

2 thoughts on “[Fidel’s Passing, Part 3 of 6] World Leaders Flock to Fidel Castro’s Havana Memorial Rally

  1. Pingback: Fidel Castro's Ashes Caravan Crosses Cuba | Where is Joe.in?

  2. Pingback: [Fidel's Passing, Part 5 of 6] Fidel Castro's Santiago de Cuba Memorial Rally, 3 December 2016 | Where is Joe.in?

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