The ashes of late Cuban leader Fidel Castro began a three-day procession across the island nation Wednesday.
Castro died Friday night at the age of 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.
Memorial services began Monday in the capital and in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, where Castro started the Cuban revolution in 1953.
The procession of his ashes is moving 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.
"It's a kind of symbolic closure to his rule. … The Castro era began with the triumph of the revolution and Fidel's march across the country. Now he's gone and they retrace that route, and the Cubans of this era have a chance to say goodbye,” William LeoGrande, an American University professor of Latin American politics, told the Associated Press.
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Havana's Revolution Square Tuesday to honor Castro.
The crowd chanted "Long live the revolution!" and "Fidel! Fidel!" as leftist Latin American allies and other leaders from the region and Africa joined the memorial rally. Leaders from elsewhere in the world were absent, with some countries sending lower level officials.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who called Castro as a "true friend of Russia," said he needed to focus on preparing a major speech and was not traveling to the island.
White House officials said President Barack Obama asked Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the president’s nominee to be ambassador to Havana, to represent the United States.
But at Tuesday's event in Havana there was praise for Castro from leaders such as Bolivian President Evo Morales and Nicaraguan President Nicolas Maduro.
"Fidel has not died because they do not die, those people who fight for their freedom," Morales told those at the rally.
Maduro said Castro had accomplished "beyond the greatest expectations."
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto had more tempered remarks in support of the Cuban people that noted changes since Castro's brother Raul took over power in 2006.
"We recognize the steps taken in a sovereign manner being taken towards a more open country, economically and politically," he said. "We Mexicans express our commitment to continue accompanying Cuba and its people as friends, as we've always done, on its historic march towards a more inclusive and prosperous society."
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.