Havana, (IANS) Fidel Castro, the fiery apostle of revolution who defied the US for nearly half a century as Cuba’s leader, died on Friday, ending an era for the country and Latin America. Several world leaders, including the Indian President and Prime Minister condoled Castro’s demise.
“The commander in chief of the Cuban revolution died late on Friday,” President Raul Castro, his younger brother, announced in a midnight broadcast.
President Castro told the nation in an unexpected late night broadcast on state television that Fidel Castro had died and would be cremated later on Saturday.
The Cuban government announced that Fidel Castro’s ashes will be interred at the Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba on December 4.
Cubans will be able to pay homage to Castro at the Jose Marti memorial in Havana on November 28, 29. A mass rally will be held in the capital.
On December 4, at 7 a.m., his ashes will be interred at the Santa Ifigenia cemetery, the resting place of 19th century Cuban independence hero Jose Marti and numerous other leading figures in the country’s history.
Several days of national mourning would be observed on the island nation.
Raul Castro ended the announcement by shouting the revolutionary slogan: “Towards victory, always!”
Barring the occasional newspaper column, Fidel Castro had essentially been retired from political life for some time.
The revolutionary icon, one of the world’s best-known and most controversial leaders, survived countless US assassination attempts and premature obituaries, but in the end proved mortal after suffering a long battle with illness.
Castro ruled Cuba as a one-party state for almost half a century before handing over the powers to his brother Raul in 2008.
His supporters praised him as a man who had given Cuba back to the people. But his opponents accused him of brutally suppressing opposition.
In April, Castro gave a rare speech on the final day of the country’s Communist Party congress.
He acknowledged his advanced age but said Cuban communist concepts were still valid and the Cuban people “will be victorious”.
“I’ll soon be 90, this is something I’d never imagined, soon I’ll be like all the others, to all our turn must come,” he said.
Several world leaders have condoled the death of Castro, with Russian President Vladimir Putin praising Castro as the “symbol of an era”.
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev hailed Castro for “strengthening” his island nation despite the US blockade.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his condolence message, said “India mourns the loss of a great friend.”
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee also condoled the death of “friend of India” Fidel Castro.
Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party chief and former cricketer, Imran Khan said: “Today the world lost an iconic revolutionary leader who liberated his nation from all vestiges of imperialism.”
French President Francois Hollande mourned the loss of a major figure on the world stage and welcomed the rapprochement between Havana and Washington, while noting concerns over human rights under the Castro regime.
“Fidel Castro was a towering figure of the 20th century. He incarnated the Cuban revolution, in both its hopes and subsequent disillusionments,” Hollande said.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said: “I lament the death of Fidel Castro Ruz, leader of the Cuban revolution and emblematic reference of the 20th Century…”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement saying: “It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President.
As soon as Fidel’s death was announced, celebrations broke out in Little Havana, the Miami neighbourhood home to many Cubans in exile in the US.
Born in 1926 in the south-eastern Oriente Province of Cuba, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was imprisoned in 1953 after leading an unsuccessful rising against US-backed Batista’s regime and was released in 1955 under an amnesty deal.
Castro was elected in 1976 as President by Cuba’s National Assembly. He arrived at an agreement in 1992 with US over Cuban refugees. In 2008 he stepped down as President due to health issues.
Fidel Castro had held on to power longer than any other living national leader except Queen Elizabeth II. He became a towering international figure whose importance in the 20th century far exceeded what might have been expected from the head of state of a Caribbean island nation of 11 million people.
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 the island nation firmly to the Soviet Union.
Yet, 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 off the coast of Florida.
Despised by his critics as much as he was revered by his followers, he outlasted 10 US presidents and defied scores of attempts on his life by the CIA.