Latin America & Caribbean

Fidel Castro funeral: Mourning Cubans ponder post-Castro era

People queue at the Jose Marti Monument in Havana to bid farewell to Castro, 28 November Image copyright EPA
Image caption Crowds of mourners have been patiently waiting to pay their respects to Fidel Castro

Cubans possess an incredible capacity to wait.

Whether in banks, in supermarket queues or at bus stops, I have seen countless Cubans wait their turn in the face of frustrating or inexplicable delays, with almost-superhuman levels of patience and good humour.

Over this extraordinary week, they have demonstrated that national trait time and again.

In the kilometres-long queues in the warm Havana sun, they quietly lined up to reach the Jose Marti monument to file past an altar to Fidel Castro, and sign a declaration of commitment to socialism.

They also stayed through the night in Revolution Square listening to eulogies to their late leader in several languages - a patience which prompted his brother, President Raul Castro, to jokingly open his speech with the line: "Don't worry, I'm the last speaker!"

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Many liberal Cubans considered him an oppressive dictator.

Then, across the length of the country, entire towns and villages stood for hours at the roadside for a glimpse of Fidel Castro's ashes as the "Caravan of Freedom" flashed past.

In rural provinces like Mayabeque and Villa Clara, some turned out so early they had to seek shade in the sugarcane fields or under trees before the cortege came by.


At one end of the island, on Havana's famous waterfront promenade, the Malecon, Luisa Rodriguez waited in almost the same place she had nearly six decades earlier.

Back then she was in her early 20s, unsure of what this rabble of young bearded revolutionaries might mean for her country.

In her words, they eventually gave her "everything", making it possible for her to become a scientist, to work in new and exciting fields of physics, to join a party she believed in. Almost as soon as I begin to ask her a question about Fidel Castro, she bursts into tears.

Image caption Luisa Rodriguez says she regarded Fidel Castro was part of her family

Regaining her composure, the diminutive 78-year-old can only explain it using the same analogy that so many others have this week: "Fidel was like a father to me."

But when Ms Rodriguez explains her own circumstances, the line sounds less like a stock response or cliché: "My own father just couldn't deal with the responsibilities of fatherhood. I actually think I've cried more for Fidel than I did for my own dad when he died," she tells me with disarming Cuban honesty.

"I couldn't have children of my own, and wanted to adopt but wasn't able to. So really, I've always felt like Fidel was my family."

Standing down

Of course, at the age of 90, Fidel Castro's death was not itself a surprise. The Cuban people had been preparing for this moment for a decade. Ask anyone at a Castro memorial event what the future holds, and you can expect a defiant answer.

"If you walk around here, you'll see that the majority is young people," says Noel, a student, motioning around at the others lining the pavement waiting for the urn.

"We're young people who are well-educated, we know what ideas we have and know what we want our country to look like. And we're not going to abandon those ideals."

Image caption Noel: Well-educated and looking to the future

But in a little over a year, Raul Castro will also be stepping down from presidency at the end of his term, leaving the country to be governed by someone other than a Castro for the first time since January 1959.

That is a moment that many Cubans in that other Havana - Little Havana in Miami - have waited and wished for, for as long as they can remember.

The Cuban-American right is feeling especially pleased this week as they are also contemplating the removal of another president whose views on Cuba they despised.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The reaction of many Cuban-Americans in Miami was very different from the mourning seen on the island

US President Barack Obama will be replaced by Donald Trump in the White House in a little over a month and the signs are already that he intends to unpick much of his predecessor's slow and careful work with the communist-run island.

Certainly his tweets about Castro since his death have been anything but diplomatic.

Reversible thaw?

Jesus Arboleya, Cuba's consul in Washington under Fidel Castro, says: "We know how to live without the United States, we know how to live against the United States and - if necessary - we will do things the same way as before."

I caught up with Mr Arboleya still mopping the sweat from his brow after he'd made the pilgrimage to Revolution Square himself and queued for hours in the sun. Could a Trump Administration put the new thaw in jeopardy?

Like most Cubans, he didn't want to dwell on such questions at this historic time of national mourning: "Today, I don't want to talk about Donald Trump. This is a great moment with maybe more than a million people to pass by the Jose Marti Monument. And if Donald Trump doesn't understand that or have a little respect for the Cuban people, it will be his problem."

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Media captionMany people chanted Fidel Castro's name and waved Cuban flags as the urn went past

Some think things will grind to a halt between President Trump and the government in Havana. Others believe that the hotel businessman may even end up being a blessing for Cubans, desperate to see the end of the US economic embargo.

Others say that the identity the White House occupant matters less than it did before, and that the new "people-to-people" connections between Americans and Cubans cannot be reversed.

No-one knows for sure.

As they lay one of the last true Cold War warriors to rest, Cubans are prepared to do something they know all too well how to do - wait and see.

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