Thousands Of Cubans Mourn Death Of Fidel Castro

Nov 28, 2016
Originally published on November 28, 2016 5:28 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Cuba today, thousands of people lined up to pay their respects to the late Fidel Castro whose body was cremated over the weekend. NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro filed this report from a packed Plaza of the Revolution in the heart of Havana.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: In life, Fidel towered over his people, and so he did in death. His memorial has been erected, perched on a hill at the massive stone obelisk commemorating the great Cuban hero Jose Marti.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A 21-gun salute at 9 a.m. sharp marked the opening of the official viewing. Cubans waited in the hot sun in long lines to make their pilgrimage, some fainting from the heat and the crush of bodies - among them, 58-year-old Alina Mora, who grew up always under the shadow of Fidel.

ALINA MORA: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "I'm a revolutionary from the cradle," she tells me with tears in her eyes. "I give thanks that Fidel existed and that he was a Cuban. For me, Fidel is the revolution. He is the country." Her friend, 58-year-old Lilian Rios, echoed the sentiments.

LILIAN RIOS: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "I'm a teacher thanks to Fidel. He was my life," she says. "He still is. I hope our youth follow his ideals." Holding a flower, a 24-year-old doctor who didn't want to give her name to foreign journalists said she was there to give thanks.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "I came voluntarily to leave a flower. I am thankful for my free studies. I cried when I got the news that he died. I'm just grateful that so many times they wanted to kill him," she says, "but he died when he wanted." In life, Fidel was a divisive figure and so he was in death. The doctor said the celebrations in Miami disgusted her.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says, "no one should celebrate the death of someone." She added, "but while a few celebrate, many more mourn." The truth of that statement, like so much else about Cuba and Castro's impact, will also be disputed.

After these two days of public ceremonies in Havana, Fidel's remains will make their way to Santiago de Cuba in the East where he will be buried next weekend. His remains will make the reverse journey of his march into Havana in 1959. Cubans have been ordered to observe nine official days of mourning. Bars and clubs are closed, and the atmosphere has been somber.

But away from the memorial at Revolution Plaza, there was a different sentiment among some.

HECTOR ISAAS: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Twenty-year-old Hector Isaas was on a busy Havana street selling black market Wi-Fi cards. Isaas says he doesn't feel any different now that Fidel is dead.

ISAAS: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says he has no interest in going to any of the public ceremonies this week. He has to keep hustling if he's going to make any money today.

ISAAS: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "I'm on my own out here on the streets," he says. The police have fined him three times in the last two weeks, and if he doesn't pay the fines - more than $200, which is many times the average monthly wage - he'll be put in jail. He says he really doesn't expect anything to change in Cuba now that Fidel is gone.

Others NPR spoke with echoed that sentiment, some calling Fidel a dictator who crushed his country under his ego. Others said they are hoping for change now that he is no longer there to stop it.

Back at the memorial, after hours of waiting in line, mourners finally reach the summit and were let into a hushed room lined in purple cloth.

So I'm walking in right now, and you don't exactly see his remains. It's more a memorial to him surrounded by flowers with an honor guard.

His ashes, though, were nowhere to be seen. The only tangible thing of his - a few medals in a case. In life, Fidel was elusive, and so he also was in death. Lulu Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Havana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.