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Cuba Set For Farewell For Revolutionary Leader Fidel Castro

  • RFE/RL

A Cuban flag flutters at half-staff near a banner depicting Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, two days after his death, in Havana on November 27.

A Cuban flag flutters at half-staff near a banner depicting Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, two days after his death, in Havana on November 27.

Cubans are preparing for a series of memorials and rallies to honor longtime leader Fidel Castro.

The 90-year-old former revolutionary leader's death was announced on November 26 and is being followed by nine days of official mourning.

Flags are flying at half-staff on government buildings and shows and concerts have been canceled as Cuba absorbs the loss of Castro, who ruled the communist island nation for nearly half a century after seizing power in 1959.

No official events were held on November 27, but students left lighted candles next to a portrait of Castro during a vigil at Havana University.

A giant photo of Castro was hung outside the National Library on the capital’s Revolution Square, where crowds of people are expected to pay their last respects on November 28-29.

Castro's remains have been cremated, and the urn containing his ashes will be carried around the country and taken to the southeastern city of Santiago to be laid to rest on December 4.

Meanwhile, a group founded by wives of jailed dissidents canceled a regular Sunday protest in the capital.

"We're not going to march today so that the government does not take it as a provocation and so that they can pay their tributes," the leader of the Ladies In White group, Berta Soler, said on November 27. "We respect the mourning of others and will not celebrate the death of any human being."

In the U.S. city of Miami, Cuban exiles and their families took to the streets to celebrate Castro's demise.

The announcement of Castro’s death prompted glowing tributes from some world leaders and prominent figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin who described him as a "sincere and reliable friend of Russia.”

Putin also called Castro a "patriot who selflessly served his country and won the love of the Cuban people and the respect of the entire international community."

On November 28, the Kremlin announced that Putin will not be attending Castro's funeral and that the Russian delegation will be headed by State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin.

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev issued a statement saying, "Fidel stood up and strengthened his country during the harshest American blockade, when there was colossal pressure on him."

North Korea ordered three days of mourning to mark Castro's death, making him the first foreign figure to be so honored since Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died in 2004.

Castro was admired by many leftists around the world, who saw him as a visionary who stood up to U.S. domination of Latin America, and brought health care and education to the poor, inspiring socialist movements across the world.

But human rights groups and Western governments criticized his regime for cracking down on dissent with brutal force.

In a statement, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said Castro had been a "brutal dictator."

"While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve," he said.

Trump, who takes office in January, had taken a tough line on Cuba during the campaign, when he threatened to reverse the historic rapprochement between the United States and the island nation if Raul Castro, Fidel Castro's brother and his successor as president, did not allow "religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the freeing of political prisoners."

U.S. President Barack Obama said history would judge Fidel Castro's “enormous impact” on the island and around the world.

Castro lived long enough to see Obama visit Cuba earlier this year, the first trip by a U.S. president in 88 years.

Suffering from an unspecified serious intestinal illness, Castro formally handed over power to Raul in 2008. He ruled the island as a one-party state for 47 years.

In his final years, he wrote opinion columns for the state media but rarely made public appearances.

A central figure in the Cold War, Castro’s rule was marked by the U.S-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban missile crisis a year later, which brought the world the closest it has been to nuclear war.

Under Castro, Cuba survived a crippling U.S. trade embargo. Castro himself also survived dozens of assassination plots.

In December 2014, Raul Castro agreed to reestablish diplomatic ties and end decades of hostility with the United States.

Castro's death seems unlikely to trigger a crisis, as his brother has maintained a firm hold on power in the last decade. He has kept dissidents largely in check and economic reform limited.

Raul Castro has vowed to step down when his term ends in 2018. He has anointed First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, 56, as his favored successor.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and the BBC
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