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 my account of the event. Towards the end is Cuban newspaper coverage, video footage and the list of rally speakers.
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.
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.
African leaders were well represented. Cuba provided military and medical support for several African conflicts, most notably in Angola.
Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s prime minister, was the only EU and Western speaker.
Interpreters translated foreign language speeches into Spanish for the audience. The foreign leaders and representatives also had access to other language translations.
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.
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.
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”.
In contrast to Ortega and Maduro, and particularly Fidel’s epic addresses, Raúl Castro’s speech was succinct.
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.
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.
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.
Video from the memorial rally:
The list of memorial rally speakers in order and their then positions:
- Corina Mestre, Cuban actor
- Robobaldo Hernández, Master of Ceremonies
- Rafael Correa Delgado, President of Ecuador
- Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa
- Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of the Dominican Republic
- Salvador Sánchez Cerén, President of El Salvador
- Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of Greece
- Abdelkader Bensalah, Council of the Nation President, Algeria
- Li Yuanchao, Vice President of China
- Majid Ansari, Vice President of Legal Affairs, Iran
- Vyacheslav Volodin, Chairman of the State Duma, Russia
- Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, Chairwoman of the National Assembly, Vietnam
- Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, former Emir and representative of Qatar
- Viktor Sheiman, special envoy of Belarus
- Evo Morales, President of Bolivia
- Hage Geingob, President of Namibia
- Enrique Peña Nieto, President of Mexico
- Daniel Ortega, President of Nicaragua
- Nicolás Maduro, President of Venezuela
- Raúl Castro, President of Cuba and Fidel’s brother
Footnote: countries with representatives speaking at the rally have a median 2017 Press Freedom Index ranking of 128.5 out of 180.