HAVANA, Nov 28 (Reuters) – Galvanized by a 21-gun salute that thundered across Havana, tens of thousands of Cubans paid final respects on Monday to Fidel Castro, who led a leftist revolution, ruled for half a century and resisted the United States throughout the Cold War.
Castro died on Friday at the age of 90, a decade after stepping down due to poor health and ceding power to his brother Raul Castro. While he had been retired as an active leader, his death removed any impediment on his brother to pursue deeper relations with Washington if U.S. President-elect Donald Trump warms to the idea of improved ties.
Castro was admired by leftists and people of the developing world who saw him as a revolutionary champion of the poor, but vilified by those who viewed him as a dictator who oppressed Cubans and ruined the economy through socialism.
“For me, he continues living in the hearts of the Cubans,” said Misleidys Rivero, 47, a service station employee with a small Cuban flag in her hand. She arrived early Monday morning at Havana’s Revolution Square to be among the first in line.
The government invited people to the square for a two-day commemoration that started with cannon blasts heard throughout much of the capital.
Castro was cremated on Saturday and the government has declared a nine-day period of mourning. His ashes will be carried in a cortege to a final resting place in Santiago de Cuba, the city in eastern Cuba where he launched the revolution.
While many Cubans report a certain pressure to attend the government’s many staged events and Castro was hated by many who fled for Miami, he was also widely loved and people appeared to shed genuine tears on Monday.
Some arrived as early as 4 a.m. to be at the head of one of three lines of mourners entering a square that has been central to Cuba’s recent history, and where Castro gave many of his rousing, lengthy speeches.