World leaders joined tens of thousands of Cubans in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution, celebrating Fidel Castro on the spot where he delivered fiery speeches to mammoth crowds in the years after he seized power.
The presidents of Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela and South Africa, along with leaders of a host of smaller nations, offered speeches paying tribute to Castro, 90, who died on Friday night.
South African president Jacob Zuma praised Cuba under Castro for its record on education and health care and its support for African independence struggles.
Castro could be remembered as “a great fighter for the idea that the poor have a right to live with dignity,” he told the crowd.
The rally began with black-and-white revolution-era footage of Castro and other guerrillas on a big screen and the playing of the Cuban national anthem. Castro’s younger brother and successor, President Raul Castro, saluted.
Raul Castro closed the rally with a speech thanking world leaders for their words of praise for his brother, who he called the leader of a revolution “for the humble, and by the humble”.
During the day, lines stretched for hours outside the Plaza of the Revolution, the heart of government power. In Havana and across the island, people signed condolence books and an oath of loyalty to Castro’s sweeping May 2000 proclamation of the Cuban revolution as an unending battle for socialism, nationalism and an outsize role for the island on the world stage.
Tribute sites were set up in hundreds of places across the island as the government urged Cubans to reaffirm their belief in a socialist, single-party system that in recent years has struggled to maintain the fervour that was widespread at the triumph of the 1959 revolution.
Many mourners came on their own accord, but thousands were sent in groups by the communist government, which still employs about 80% of the working people in Cuba despite the growth of the private sector under Raul.
Since Fidel Castro’s death, state-run newspapers, television and radio have run wall-to-wall tributes to him, broadcasting non-stop footage of his speeches, interviews and foreign trips, interspersed with adulatory remembrances by prominent Cubans.