At a memorial for former leader Fidel Castro, Cuban President Raul Castro told tens of thousands gathered in Santiago de Cuba Saturday that the government will honor his brother’s wish that no statues or public places be named after him.
Fidel Castro died November 25 at age 90. His ashes will be entombed near the remains of Cuba’s independence hero Jose Marti. The funeral will be Sunday.
“This is the unconquered Fidel who calls us with his example,” Raul Castro, dressed in his four-star general’s uniform, told the crowd, which had burst into chants of “I am Fidel.”
“Yes, we will overcome any obstacle, turmoil or threat in the building of socialism in Cuba,” Castro, 85, said during the evening event.
Fidel Castro’s ashes arrived Saturday afternoon in Santiago de Cuba, the city where he started the Cuban revolution in 1953.
Soldiers push the vehicle and trailer carrying the ashes of the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro after suffering a mechanical issue in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, Dec. 3, 2016.
The ashes, housed in a trailer pulled by an olive-green army jeep, have made a three-day procession across the island nation, greeted by hundreds of thousands of admirers mourning, cheering or chanting “I am Fidel!” as the cortege rolled by.
The Saturday night rally was attended by such Castro allies as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and football (soccer) champion Diego Maradona.
At the funeral Sunday, in addition to Maduro and Maradona, other leaders are expected, including Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Bolivian President Evo Morales, and former Brazilian presidents Luis Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff.
Meanwhile, Raul Castro, 85, will continue to rule the country as he has done since assuming the presidency in February 2008. He has brought some reforms to the island nation, the most significant of which is the restoration of diplomatic ties with the United States. But he has pledged to step down in 2018, leaving Cuba's future more uncertain than it has been in recent years.
Impetus for change
Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Cuba for five years before his release in 2014, told VOA on Saturday that no matter who leads Cuba next, Cubans themselves are going to have to be behind any fundamental change in their country's government.
"Nothing is going to change unless people change things," Gross said, adding that the Cuban people want a "peaceful dialogue" with the government.
Gross, who was working in Cuba for an international development agency, was jailed in 2009 for allegedly spying while trying to facilitate internet and satellite connection to members of Cuba's Jewish population.
An image of Cuba's late President Fidel Castro is raised as people wait for the arrival of the caravan carrying Castro's ashes in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, Dec. 3, 2016.
Fidel Castro died November 25 at age 90. His body was cremated as Cuba began a nine-day period of mourning for the polarizing leader, who was celebrated by some as a champion of the poor and harshly criticized by others as a tyrant who wrecked the country's economy and violated human rights.
The procession of his ashes moved east from Havana, following in reverse the route Castro and his rebels fighters took as they advanced on the capital from the Sierra Maestra mountains before taking power in January 1959.
Castro, raised near Santiago de Cuba, launched his revolt against the rule of Fulgencio Batista in 1953 from the southeastern city, finally toppling the U.S.-backed leader and seizing power in 1959. He set up a one-party socialist government, which constantly defied Washington and allied itself with the former Soviet Union.
VOA's Ira Melman contributed to this report.