Cuban people on death of Castro: ‘I didn’t know what to do’

Devastated Cuban people express grief at death of former leader Fidel Castro

Hundreds of young Cubans gather at Havana University to remember Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who died on Friday night. Photograph: Alejandro Ernesto/EPA

Hundreds of young Cubans gather at Havana University to remember Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who died on Friday night. Photograph: Alejandro Ernesto/EPA

 

It was a devastated Cuban people that woke up on Saturday morning to the news that their former leader Fidel Castro had died during the night.

President Raul Castro addressed the nation on television.

“I have to sadly inform you that Fidel Castro is dead.” Fidel was, he said, “the founder of the revolution”.

In Pinar del Río, stunned Cubans gathered around television sets taking in the news, commenting on the condolences of various world leaders including Pope Francis who sent a signed telegraph to President Raul Castro whom he met during a Papal visit to the island in 2015, offering “my sense of grief to your excellency and family”.

One tour guide told The Irish Times: “When I woke up this morning and I heard our comandante was dead, I didn’t know what to do.”

Referring to scenes of jubilation from Cuban exiles in Miami, she said “some people will be happy but even there many Cubans will be sad.”

Cuba will undergo nine days of national mourning and after Castro’s funeral on Sunday his ashes will be brought in procession across the island to the second city of Santiago de Cuba.

This city is where he announced the trials of the revolution in 1959 after his revolutionary forces overthrew the dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Michelle, a hotel worker from Binales, said: “During the nine days of national mourning all festivals and music in bars will be cancelled”.

Fidel Castro was the Cuban leader during the failed US-led Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis when the world teetered on the edge of nuclear war.

He was leader from the victorious revolution until he resigned due to ill health in 2008 when he was replaced by his brother Raul. He outlasted ten US presidents.

During his leadership, up to two million Cubans fled to the US, most to Florida, where many of them celebrated his death.

In a tweet after hearing the news, US President-elect Donald Trump said simply: “Fidel Castro is dead!”

During the US presidential election, he criticised President Barack Obama’s “one sided” deals with Cuba, a line that helped garner the votes of Cuban exiles which helped him narrowly win the state of Florida and the presidency itself.

It is unclear as yet as to what effect the death of Castro will have on US-Cuban relations, which had been improving under President Obama.

Mr Trump has suggested he would look again at the recent improved relations which led to the establishment of embassies in each other’s countries and the loosening of travel restrictions for American citizens visiting Cuba, many of whom are now taking advantages and holidaying on the island.