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Wednesday , 13 December 2017

Fidel Castro death: Cuba plunged into mourning for ex-leader

Cuba is mourning its revolutionary leader and former President Fidel Castro, whose death was announced late on Friday and has plunged the country into nine days of mourning.

The body of the 90-year-old was due to be cremated at a private ceremony in Havana on Saturday.

Some world leaders have been paying tribute to the 20th century icon.

US President-elect Donald Trump, however, described Fidel Castro as a “brutal dictator”.

Castro came to power in 1959 and ushered in a Communist revolution, defying the US for decades.

His supporters viewed him as a man who stood up to America during the Cold War and returned Cuba to the people. His critics, however, called him a dictator

Flags are flying at half-mast on government buildings across the island, as many ordinary Cubans are feeling grief at the loss of someone who was a part of their lives for decades.

In Miami, a US city with a large Cuban community, there were celebrations shortly after Castro’s death was announced, with people banging pots and cheering.

Media captionLittle Havana, a neighbourhood in Miami, celebrates Fidel Castro’s death

The US cut ties with Cuba in 1961 amid rising Cold War tensions and imposed a strict economic embargo which remains in place more than half a century on.

Under President Barack Obama, the relationship warmed and diplomatic ties were restored in 2015.

Mr Obama said history would “record and judge the enormous impact” of Castro. America was extending “a hand of friendship to the Cuban people” at this time, he added.

A mourning period began on Saturday and will be observed in Cuba until the urn with Castro’s ashes is taken to the south-eastern city of Santiago de Cuba to be laid to rest there on 4 December.

Before that, a series of memorials will be held in Havana and Castro’s ashes will travel along the route of the Caravan of Freedom that took place in January 1959.

Media captionSadness on the streets of Havana: “For us he is an idol”

Many in Havana were in tears on Saturday, genuinely moved by the loss of a man they consider to have freed their country from Washington’s grasp, the BBC’s Will Grant reports.

Castro was the longest serving non-royal leader of the 20th Century. He had been retired from political life for several years, after handing power to his brother Raul in 2006 because of illness.

Reacting to news of Castro’s death one woman, a government employee, said: “I always said it couldn’t be. Even though they said it now, I say it can’t be.”

But Cuban dissident group Ladies in White, which was founded by wives of jailed dissidents, tweeted: “May God forgive him, I won’t”.


How Castro defied the US

Throughout the Cold War, Fidel Castro was a thorn in Washington’s side.

An accomplished tactician on the battlefield, he and his small army of guerrillas overthrew the military leader Fulgencio Batista in 1959 to widespread popular support.

Within two years of taking power, he declared the revolution to be Marxist-Leninist in nature and allied Cuba firmly to the Soviet Union – a move that led to the missile crisis in 1962, bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war before the Soviet Union abandoned its plan to put missiles on Cuban soil.

Image captionCastro in the mid-1950s with another leading revolutionary – Che Guevara
Image captionYears later he would meet Pope John Paul II, despite declaring Cuba an atheist state

Despite the constant threat of a US invasion as well as the long-standing economic embargo on the island, Castro managed to maintain a communist revolution in a nation just 90 miles (145km) off the coast of Florida.

Despised by his critics as much as he was revered by his followers, he maintained his rule through 10 US presidents and survived scores of attempts on his life by the CIA.

He established a one-party state, with hundreds of supporters of the Batista government executed. Political opponents have been imprisoned, the independent media suppressed. Thousands of Cubans have fled into exile.

How has the world reacted?

Many world leaders have paid tribute to Castro. Russian President Vladimir Putin described him as a “reliable and sincere friend” of Russia, while Chinese President Xi Jinping said his people had “lost a good and true comrade”.

The Soviet Union’s last leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, said: “Fidel stood up and strengthened his country during the harshest American blockade, when there was colossal pressure on him.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged advances in education, literary and health under Castro, but said he hoped Cuba would “continue to advance on a path of reform, greater prosperity and human rights”.

Pope Francis, who met Castro, an atheist, when he visited Cuba in 2015, called his death “sad news”.

In Venezuela, Cuba’s main regional ally, President Nicolas Maduro said “revolutionaries of the world must follow his legacy”.


Fidel Castro’s key dates

Media captionIn April, Castro made a rare appearance at Cuba’s Communist Party congress
  • 1926: Born in the south-eastern Oriente Province of Cuba
  • 1953: Imprisoned after leading an unsuccessful rising against Batista’s regime
  • 1955: Released from prison under an amnesty deal
  • 1956: With Che Guevara, begins a guerrilla war against the government
  • 1959: Defeats Batista, sworn in as prime minister of Cuba
  • 1961: Fights off CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban exiles
  • 1962: Sparks Cuban missile crisis by agreeing that USSR can deploy nuclear missiles in Cuba
  • 1976: Elected president by Cuba’s National Assembly
  • 1992: Reaches an agreement with US over Cuban refugees
  • 2006: Hands over reins to brother Raul due to health issues, stands down as president two years later

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