SANTIAGO DE CUBA — Fidel Castro’s ashes were interred Sunday morning here in Cuba’s second-largest city, alongside the tombs of Cuba’s most exalted national heroes.
A military caravan carrying his ashes in a small, flag-draped cedar casket arrived in the city Saturday after a four-day journey across the island, where Cubans lined the highway waving flags and chanting, “I am Fidel! I am Fidel!”
Castro’s interment Sunday concludes a nine-day period of natural mourning ordered by the government after Castro’s death Nov. 25 at age 90. He ruled Cuba from 1959 to 2006, when illness forced him to step aside and transfer power to his younger brother Raúl.
Raúl Castro, 85, addressed a crowd of hundreds of thousands at a memorial in Santiago’s Plaza of the Revolution on Saturday evening, assuring them that his brother “never lost faith in victory” and that Cuba’s socialist system would endure.
“Few in the world believed in our ability to resist and overcome,” said Castro, recalling the worst years of Cuba’s post-Soviet economic crisis, when the country suffered food shortages and chronic blackouts. “Fidel showed us that it was possible,” he said.
Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his recently impeached successor, Dilma Rousseff, joined Raúl Castro on the dais along with other Latin American leftist leaders. Several of Fidel Castro’s celebrity friends, including Argentine soccer icon Diego Maradona and actor Danny Glover, also made the trip to Santiago.
In his speech, Raúl Castro noted that his older brother never wanted streets, parks, statues or any other public monuments named in his honor, and he said he would recommend laws to Cuban parliament to uphold his brother’s wishes.
The Santa Ifigenia cemetery that is Castro’s final resting place includes the tombs of Cuban national hero Jose Martí and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, who launched Cuba’s first war of independence against Spanish colonial rule in 1868.
Santiago de Cuba is considered the “birthplace” of Castro’s Cuban Revolution. The prosperous Castro family estate was 60 miles to the north, and starting at age 7, Castro spent much of his childhood at Jesuit boarding schools.
In 1953 he led a bloody botched assault on the city’s military garrison, his first attempt to overthrow the military government of Gen. Fulgencio Batista. Castro’s 1956 to 1959 guerrilla campaign in the mountains outside the city finally drove Batista from power on Dec. 31, 1958, and he arrived in Santiago the next day to declare victory in the central square.