The comandante overthrew Batista, established a communist state and survived countless American assassination attempts
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 and died late on Friday night after a long battle with illness.
Given the former president’s age and health problems, the announcement of Castro’s death had long been expected. But when it came it was still a shock: the comandante – a figurehead for armed struggle across the developing world – was no more. It was news that friends and foes had long dreaded and yearned for respectively.
Castro’s younger brother Raúl, who assumed the presidency of Cuba in 2006 after Fidel suffered a near-fatal intestinal ailment, announced the revolutionary leader’s death on television on Friday night.
“With profound sadness I am appearing to inform our people and our friends across [Latin] America and the world that today, 25 November 2016, at 10.29pm, Fidel Castro, the commander in chief of the Cuban revolution, died,” he said.
“In accordance with his wishes, his remains will be cremated.”
Raúl Castro concluded his address with the famous revolutionary slogan: “Onwards to victory!”
On Saturday, the Cuban government announced that Fidel Castro’s ashes will be interred at the Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba on 4 December. The cemetery is the resting place of 19th century Cuban independence hero José Martí and numerous other leading figures in the country’s torrid history.
His death prompted a raft of tributes from world leaders.
“The name of this distinguished statesman is rightly considered the symbol of an era in modern world history,” the Russian president, Vladimir Putin said in a telegram to Raúl Castro cited by the Kremlin. “Fidel Castro was a sincere and reliable friend of Russia.”
The French president, François Hollande, mourned his loss but noted 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,” he said.
“France, which condemned human rights abuses in Cuba, had equally challenged the US embargo on Cuba, and France was glad to see the two countries re-establish dialogue and open ties between themselves,” the Socialist party leader added in a statement.
Meanwhile Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, thanked Castro for his help and support in the fight to overthrow apartheid.
“President Castro identified with our struggle against apartheid. He inspired the Cuban people to join us in our own struggle against apartheid,” Zuma said in a statement.
Pope Francis send Raúl Castro his condolences in a telegram.
“I express my sentiments of sorrow to Your Excellency and other family members of the deceased dignitary, as well as to the people of this beloved nation,” the telegram read.
“At the same time, I offer prayers to the Lord for his rest and I trust the whole Cuban people to the maternal intercession of our Lady of the Charity of El Cobre, patroness of this country,” he says.
Castro survived long enough to see Raúl negotiate an opening with the outgoing US president, Barack Obama, in December 2014, when Washington and Havana announced they would move to restore diplomatic ties for the first time since they were severed in 1961.
After outlasting nine occupants of the White House, he cautiously blessed the historic deal with his lifelong enemy in a letter published after a month-long silence.
The thaw in relations was crowned when Obama visited the island earlier this year. Castro did not meet Obama and days later wrote a scathing column condemning the US president’s “honey-coated” words and reminding Cubans of the many US attempts to overthrow and weaken the communist government.
As in life, in death Castro was deeply divisive. The announcement of his death was widely greeted online with celebration and condemnation of a “cruel dictator” and his repressive regime.
Others mourned the passing of “a fighter of US imperialism” and a “charismatic icon”.
In Miami, home to the largest diaspora of expatriate Cubans, people took to the streets celebrating his death, singing, dancing, and waving Cuban flags. As pots and pans were banged in jubilation, there were chants of “Cuba Libre!” (Cuba is Free) and “el viejo murió” (the old man is dead). Previous false reports of Castro’s death have triggered cavalcades of cheering, flag-waving revellers.
Fidel wrote occasional columns for the party paper, Granma, and made very occasional public appearances – most recently at the 2016 Communist party congress – but otherwise kept a very low profile.
Despite the mixed reactions to his death, one thing all could agree on was that this extraordinary figure had left his mark on history.
More than half a century ago, his guerrilla army of “bearded ones” replaced Fulgencio Batista’s corrupt dictatorship with communist rule which challenged the US and turned the island into a cold-war crucible.
He fended off a CIA-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 as well as many assassination attempts. His alliance with Moscow helped trigger the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, a 13-day showdown with the US that brought the world closer to the brink of nuclear war than it has ever been.
The US had long counted on Castro’s mortality as a “biological solution” to communism in the Caribbean but, since officially succeeding his brother in 2008, Raúl has cemented his own authority while overseeing cautious economic reforms, and agreeing the momentous deal to restore diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US in late 2014.
Read the complete article at The Guardian.