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Cubans Mourn Revolutionary Leader Fidel Castro

  • RFE/RL

A frail-looking Fidel Castro at the Cuban Communist Party congress in Havana earlier this year.

A frail-looking Fidel Castro at the Cuban Communist Party congress in Havana earlier this year.

Cuba is mourning its revolutionary leader and former President Fidel Castro.

The 90-year-old’s death was announced on November 26, plunging the country into nine days of mourning.

Flags are flying at half-staff on government buildings and shows and concerts have been canceled, as many Cubans are feeling grief at the loss of someone who led the communist island nation for nearly half a century.

Mass rallies are planned for the coming days to honor Castro, whose remains were to be cremated at a private ceremony in the capital on November 26.

The urn with his ashes are to be taken to the eastern city of Santiago to be laid to rest on December 4.

The announcement of Castro’s death prompted tributes from some world leaders and less effusive reactions from others, including U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.

"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," Trump said in a statement.

Meanwhile, thousands of Cuban exiles living in the U.S. city of Miami took to the streets to celebrate Castro's demise.

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 healthcare and education to the poor, inspiring socialist movements across the world.

But his critics accused him of being an autocrat who cracked down on dissent with brutal force.

WATCH: Fidel Castro's Death Is Announced On Cuban TV

​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 Castro did not allow "religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the freeing of political prisoners."

U.S. President Barack Obama offered his condolences to Castro's family in a statement and added that history would judge Castro's impact on Cuba and around the world.

"At this time of Fidel Castro's passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people," Obama said. "History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him."

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

Castro did not meet Obama and wrote a scathing column condemning his "honey-coated" words and reminding Cubans of the numerous U.S. efforts to overthrow and weaken Cuba's communist government.

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Castro as the "symbol of an era" in a telegram to Raul Castro, and later called the Cuban president to offer condolences on the death of his brother, the Kremlin said.

Putin called Fidel Castro a "distinguished statesman," a "sincere and reliable friend of Russia," and a "patriot who selflessly served his country and won the love of the Cuban people and the respect of the entire international community."

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev hailed Castro for "strengthening" his island nation.

"Fidel stood up and strengthened his country during the harshest American blockade, when there was colossal pressure on him and he still took his country out of this blockade to a path of independent development," the Interfax news agency quoted Gorbachev as saying.

Venezuela's socialist President Nicolas Maduro said that "revolutionaries of the world must follow his legacy."

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Castro "one of the most iconic personalities of the 20th century," in a tweet.

"I lament the death of Fidel Castro Ruz, leader of the Cuban revolution and emblematic reference of the 20th century," Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said on Twitter.

French President Francois Hollande said Castro embodied the "hopes and disappointments" of the Cuban revolution, noting concerns over human rights abuses under the Castro regime.

Over the years, Castro’s regime has been regularly criticized by human rights groups and Western governments for persecuting dissidents and jailing them without trial.

Hollande met Castro in May, 2015 during the first ever visit by a French head of state to Cuba since the Cuban revolution.

South African President Jacob Zuma thanked the Cuban leader for his support in the struggle to overthrow apartheid.

"President Castro identified with our struggle against apartheid. He inspired the Cuban people to join us in our own struggle,” Zuma said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, in a message read out during the country’s main TV channel newscast, said, "Comrade Castro will live forever."

Suffering from an unspecified serious intestinal illness, Castro temporarily stepped down in July, 2006, before formally handing over power to his brother in 2008.

He ruled the island as a one-party state for nearly 50 years.

OBITUARY: Fidel Castro, 1926-2016

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

He made his most extensive public appearance in years, on the final day of the country’s Communist Party congress in April.

"Soon I'll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban communists will remain as proof that on this planet, if one works with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need and that need to be fought for without ever giving up," Castro said.

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, as well as dozens of assassination plots.

Several years after Castro stepped down, 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 Raul 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 designated Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel as his successor.

With reporting by AFP, the BBC, AP, and Reuters
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