Castro’s ashes in marathon procession to revolution’s birthplace

Tens of thousands of Cubans expected to line route of caravan

Having ousted dictator General Fulgencio Batista in 1959, former Cuban president Fidel Castro has died aged 90 having led his nation for over five decades. Video: Reuters


Draped in the red, white and blue national flag, Fidel Castro’s ashes were borne through Havana on Wednesday, at the start of an island-crossing trek to his final resting place in eastern Cuba, where the first shots in the Cuban Revolution were fired.

Castro, who ruled Cuba for half a century until 2008 and built a Communist state on the doorstep of the United States, died on Friday, aged 90, plunging the Caribbean nation into nine days of mourning.

He was cremated on Saturday. It will take the cortege carrying his ashes three days to make the 550-mile (900km) journey eastward across his eyebrow-shaped land to Santiago de Cuba, going back along the route taken by his bearded revolutionaries in their victory march to Havana in 1959.

The cortege slowly set off from the city ’s Revolution Square on Wednesday morning, wending its way along Havana’s seafront drive, the Malecon. The box containing Castro ’s ashes sat in a glass case on a small flatbed trailer towed by a green military vehicle, rimmed in white flowers.

“We came to see the ashes because he made history,” said Cecilio Salgado (58), who travelled from Havana s outskirts to bid farewell to Castro.

“He deserves a tribute like this. He is the best thing that could have happened to us.” The interment will take place on Sunday morning.

‘Fulfilled his mission’

“He more than fulfilled his mission on this earth,” Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, whose government supports Cuba’s ailing economy with oil sold on favourable terms, told the massive crowd.

“Few lives have been so complete, so bright. He has left unconquered.”

Castro was admired by many around the world, especially in Latin America and Africa, for standing up to the United States, instituting free education and health care, and sending doctors around the world on missions of mercy. But others vilified him as a dictator who ruined the economy with his brand of socialism and denied Cubans basic human rights such as freedom of speech.

Some two million Cuban-Americans live in the United States, the result of a steady stream of people quitting the country for political and economic reasons.

With the average state salary at $25 per month, many young Cubans look for ways to leave, seeing little future in their homeland.

Pall of silence

Nationwide, Cubans have lined up to sign condolence books and pledges to honour Castro’s socialist ideology. State media continue to play tributes on a loop.

Tens of thousands of Cubans are expected to line the route of the caravan carrying Castro’s ashes toward Santiago, where he first launched his revolutionary movement in 1953 with an assault on the Moncada barracks.

Later, after his bearded guerrillas deposed US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, they swept down from the Sierra Maestra mountains into Santiago, before making their victory march westward towards the capital. – (Reuters)