HAVANA, Cuba (AFP) – Cuba on Sunday prepared a grand send-off for its revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, with a four-day funeral procession planned for a giant figure of modern history, widely loved but branded a tyrant by many.
After the stunned commotion triggered by word that Castro, 90, had died, Sunday was a day of preparations ahead of a flurry of events marking his death.
Students left lighted candles next to a portrait of the black-bearded communist firebrand during a vigil at Havana University.
A titan of the 20th century who beat the odds to endure into the 21st, Castro died late Friday after surviving 11 US administrations and hundreds of assassination attempts. No cause of death was given.
“It is a great loss. The most important thing is that he died when he chose, not when all the counter-revolutionaries wanted,” said Carlos Manuel Obregon Rodriguez, a 43-year-old taxi driver in Havana.
“It may not be painful for everyone, but it is for a lot of people. I was born under this revolution and I owe Fidel a lot,” he added.
President Raul Castro said his older brother’s remains would be cremated. There was no official confirmation of whether that had yet happened.
– Funeral procession –
No official events were scheduled Sunday but a series of memorials will begin Monday, when Cubans are called to converge on Havana’s Revolution Square.
“Tomorrow will be great. It will go down in history,” Obregon said.
Castro’s ashes will then go on a four-day island-wide procession before being buried in the southeastern city of Santiago on December 4, the government said.
Santiago, Cuba’s second city, was the scene of Castro’s ill-fated first attempt at revolution in 1953 — six years before he succeeded in ousting the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Castro ruled Cuba from 1959 with an iron fist until he handed power to Raul Castro in 2006 due to poor health.
Ordinary Cubans hailed him for providing free health care and education. But he cracked down harshly on dissent, jailing and exiling opponents.