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End of era in Cuba as revolutionary Fidel Castro dies

Cubans mourn the revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and tributes flood in from world leaders.
Women cry as they hold a poster of Cuba's historic revolutionary leader Fidel Castro outside the Cuban embassy in Santiago on November 26, 2016, the day after he died aged 90.  Martin Bernetti / AFP
Women cry as they hold a poster of Cuba's historic revolutionary leader Fidel Castro outside the Cuban embassy in Santiago on November 26, 2016, the day after he died aged 90. Martin Bernetti / AFP

HAVANA // Cubans reacted to the death of revolutionary leader Fidel Castro with both grief and joy. In the Cuban capital, Havana, and throughout the island, they prepared for nine days of national mourning. But in Miami, news of his death at 90 brought Cuban exiles out into the streets in joyous celebration.

To the former, Castro was the visionary who built a communist state on America’s doorstep and for 50 years defied all attempts to destroy it, and him. To the latter, he was a cruel dictator who made Cuba intolerable for its own people.

News of Castro’s death, aged 90, was relayed on state television at just past midnight local time by his brother, Raul, five years his junior, who took over the presidency in 2006. “The commander-in-chief of the Cuban revolution died at 22.29 hours,” he intoned at just after midnight on Saturday morning.

As the world woke up to the news, tributes poured in. US president Barack Obama, who oversaw the restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba after 53 years said, “ We know that his moment fills Cubans — in Cuba and in the United States — with powerful emotions ...... History will record the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.”

Mr Obama’s successor, president-elect Donald Trump was less generous. Referring to the late leader as “a brutal dictator” Mr Trump said, “Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and denial of fundamental human rights.”

In a telegram to Raúl Castro, Russian president Vladimir Putin said, “The name of this distinguished statesman is rightly considered the symbol of an era in modern world history,” while former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said Castro left “a deep mark in the history of mankind.”

Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, sent messages of condolence to Raúl Castro.

Indian president Narendra Modi said, “India mourns the loss of a great friend,” while French president Francois Hollande said Castro represented the Cuban nation’s “pride in rejecting external domination” and Argentinian football legend Diego Maradona hailed Castro as “a second father.”

In the streets of Miami, home to most of the Cuban-American community, euphoric crowds waved flags and danced, banging on pots and drums and honking their car horns through the night.

“It’s sad that one finds joy in the death of a person — but that person should never have been born,” said Pablo Arencibia, 67, a teacher who fled Cuba 20 years ago. “Satan is now the one who has to worry. Fidel is heading there and is going to try to get his job.”

In Havana, however, Cubans remembered how Castro’s communism had ensured free health care and education for all.

“Losing Fidel is like losing a father — the guide, the beacon of this revolution,” said Michel Rodriguez, a 42-year-old baker in Havana.

However, there were shouts and insults in Madrid as a small crowd composed of both pro- and anti-Castro supporters met in front of the Cuban embassy.

Following his wishes, Castro was to be cremated on Saturday. His ashes will be buried in the south-eastern city of Santiago on December 4, after being carried through the country in a procession for four days. All shows and public activities are cancelled during the period of national mourning.

* Associated Press

Updated: November 26, 2016 04:00 AM