Fidel Castro's Ashes Return To Cradle Of Revolution

Fidel Castro's Ashes Return To Cradle Of Revolution

The urn with the ashes of Cuban leader Fidel Castro is driven through Bayamo, Cuba (AFP)

Santiago de Cuba, Cuba: The convoy carrying the ashes of Cuba's late communist leader Fidel Castro ends an island-wide journey on Saturday in the cradle of his revolution for a big ceremony before his burial.

After the flag-draped cedar urn spent the night in a military barracks in the city of Bayamo, a jeep pulled the ashes toward their final destination in Santiago de Cuba.

Crowds lined the roads for a fourth day to bid farewell to the former president who ruled with an iron fist for almost half a century.

President Raul Castro, who took over when his brother fell ill in 2006, will deliver a much-awaited speech during a massive tribute with foreign dignitaries in the eastern city on Saturday evening.

Capping a nine-day mourning period, the remains will be interred in a private ceremony on Sunday at the Santa Ifigenia cemetery, where 19th century independence hero Jose Marti is buried.

Fidel Castro's death on November 25 at age 90 has fueled discussions about his divisive legacy and the direction that the country may take without the omnipresent leader, who ruled for almost half a century.

Tearful supporters have cheered Fidel Castro for the free education and health care he spread in the island, while detractors call him a brutal dictator who imprisoned dissidents and ran the economy to the ground.

'Farewell, comandante'

People put up posters of Castro as Santiago prepared to welcome the convoy, which has been greeted by massive crowds chanting "viva Fidel!" since Wednesday, when the funeral procession left Havana on a 900-kilometer (560-mile) trip.

"He has been the father of all Cubans and all the people in need in the world," said Margarita Aguilera, the 54-year-old director of a state tobacco company who painted the words "farewell, comandante" on a white stone in front of a house.

Enediel Rodriguez, 50, was helping prepare a public hall Friday where mourners will be able to watch the jeep arriving with the ashes before they go out on the street.

"He will rest in Santiago de Cuba because Marti is our national apostle and this was his idea, to rest here next to him," Rodriguez said.

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The government had already led a huge rally with two dozen foreign presidents in Havana on Tuesday, but Santiago holds a special place in Castro's life.

On July 26, 1953, the Castro brothers launched a failed attack on the Moncada military barracks in Santiago.

While the rebels were jailed, the attack put Castro on the map and he would eventually go into exile in Mexico.

"Condemn me, it does not matter," the trained lawyer had famously said at his trial. "History will absolve me."

Dissidents lie low

Three years after the Moncada defeat, the Castro brothers and their band of bearded rebels returned to Cuba aboard a ship named Granma. On Friday, Cuba marked 60 years since the yacht landed in a southeastern beach.

The rebels fled into the Sierra Maestra mountains, launching a guerrilla war that would end in triumph against US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista on January 1, 1959.

Following their victory, Castro celebrated by touring the island from Santiago to Havana. This week, the "caravan of freedom" took his ashes on the reverse route.

While hundreds of thousands of people have congregated along the road to bid farewell, the government has also encouraged Cubans to sign a pledge to defend his revolution.

Dissidents, meanwhile, have kept a low profile during the commemorations, calling off regular protests, though they plan to resume their demonstrations after Fidel Castro is buried.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)