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News > Latin America

Cuba Bids Farewell to Fidel With Huge Santiago Memorial, Vigil

  • Mourners of Fidel Castro gather on the Plaza de la Revolucion in Santiago de Cuba, Dec. 3, 2016.

    Mourners of Fidel Castro gather on the Plaza de la Revolucion in Santiago de Cuba, Dec. 3, 2016. | Photo: teleSUR

Published 1 December 2016

Fidel Castro will be remembered as a champion of the world's poor, a figure of Latin American integration, and a fierce anti-imperialist.

Late Cuban president Fidel Castro's ashes are in their final resting place of Santiago de Cuba, where a public procession took place Saturday evening before the funeral Sunday. Tens of Thousands of mourners gathered along with world leaders to bid farewell to a modern icon of Latin America.

Fidel: A Revolutionary Life

The "Caravan of Liberty" started transporting Fidel's ashes across Cuba Wednesday after a massive public gathering and ceremony in Havana's Revolution Square saw hundreds of thousands say goodbye to the iconic leader Tuesday night.

The caravan traveled in the reverse order of the leader’s historic journey from Santiago de Cuba to Havana in 1959 to following the triumph of the Cuban revolution, which ousted the U.S.-backed military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.

The four-day procession concluded with the mass event Saturday and state funeral in Santiago de Cuba Sunday, where Fidel’s ashes were interred at the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, which houses the remains of Cuban independence hero Jose Marti and other national heroes.

Since Fidel's death on Nov. 25, his legacy has been a hotly debated topic in mainstream and social media. Millions of Cubans and representatives from dozens of countries have hailed Fidel's leadership in social justice causes in his native Cuba and around the globe.

In Africa, for instance, Fidel was a key figure in the fight against racism and colonialism, with the liberation of Angola counting among Cuba’s most influential missions in the 1970s. He would also become a main player in the end of Apartheid. His influence in the continent began in 1961, when the Cuban government sent a ship with supplies to aid Algeria during its struggle against French colonialism. On its way back, the ship brought hundreds of wounded and orphaned children to the island to receive medical support.

Cuban solidarity was also present in Ghana, Mali, Guinea Bissau, Belize, Haiti, Equatorial Guinea and Palestine, among others.

His contributions to anti-racism have even been felt in the United States, where the anti-police brutality group Black Lives Matter recently reflected on how they can learn from his life of struggle.

“We are feeling many things as we awaken to a world without Fidel Castro. There is an overwhelming sense of loss, complicated by fear and anxiety,” the group said the Sunday following his death.

Other fields where the tireless leader’s influence reached included those of education, health and even the environment, the latter of which is a lesser known fact.

Fidel Castro’s Enduring Environmental Legacy

Indeed, as early as 1992, even before the science community began talking seriously about global warming, Fidel stressed the dangers that consumer societies pose to the environment during a famous speech.

“Let human life become more rational,” he said at the United Nations Rio Earth Summit. “Let us implement a just international economic order. Let us use all the science necessary for pollution-free, sustained development. Let us pay the ecological debt, and not the foreign debt. Let hunger disappear, and not mankind.”

That passion for mankind’s progress was perhaps most evident in the premium Fidel placed on the cultivation of the mind. Free education at all levels was therefore extended to all Cubans as soon as the Revolution took power, starting with an ambitious literacy campaign across the country launched as early as a month into the Revolution’s victory. These focused heavily on campesino communities, which were plagued by a lack of schools. By December 22, 1961, the island nation had effectively and fully eradicated illiteracy.

Those efforts were also closely linked to Fidel’s deep-rooted belief in and struggle for the emancipation of women, who were the main victims of the high illiteracy rates and made up a mere 17 percent of the workforce. Therefore, only a year after the triumphant Revolution, the Federation of Cuban Women was founded.

When the revolution overthrew the bloody Batista regime tied to U.S. imperialism, women were among the most discriminated sectors to quickly benefit from measures of social justice. The Women's Federation played an active role in defending women's rights, under the strong leadership of Vilma Espin – a fierce revolutionary fighter and partner of President Raul Castro – until her death in 2007.

And, of course, there is the tireless and renown triumphs that Cuban medicine has contributed to the world, including its ground-breaking success in developing cancer drugs. As of late, the island has taken to testing drugs to turn cancer into a manageable chronic disease, adapting treatment to each tumor rather than attacking them with a one-size-fits-all cure. No less than 28 bio-pharmaceuticals, mostly therapeutic vaccines and monoclonal antibodies, are already registered or in various stages of testing.

Cuban doctors have also traveled around the world, particularly where natural disasters or poverty have ravaged societies. In Honduras, for instance, the presence of Cuban doctors since 1998 has seen more than 29 million lives served, and at least 250,800 saved, according to local media reports. Fidel sent the Cuban Medical Brigade that year following a devastating hurricane that killed at least 7,000 Hondurans and left more than 1.5 million on the streets.

What’s more, all of these triumphs have been achieved despite the crippling U.S. embargo which has been denounced by the United Nations time and time again. That resilience and strength, which defeated all attempts by the U.S. to topple Cuba’s socialist government, was therefore celebrated by his brother Raul during Saturday’s ceremony.

Cuba Leads the Way in Developing New Cancer Drugs

“That's our undefeated Fidel, who calls us with his example and ... demonstrated that yes, we could; yes, we can; and yes, we will," he was reported saying.

Even in death, Fidel has continued to lead by example, making his last, dying wish that there not be any type of cult of personality in his name and that no public places carry his name or image. To that end, the Cuban government will present a legal measure to the National Assembly which will forbid any such homages.

Dignitaries on the stage during Saturday’s vigil from Latin America included Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Panamanian President Carlos Varela, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, reported CNN.

Also in attendance was a FARC delegation and ex-Presidents of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and South African President Jacob Zuma also flew to Cuba to pay their respects, a clear sign of Fidel’s influence in Africa.

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