Fidel Castro’s ashes have been interred during a private ceremony, ending nine days of mourning for the man who ruled Cuba for nearly half a century.
The military caravan bearing his remains in a flag-draped cedar coffin left the Plaza of the Revolution in Santiago early yesterday morning, with thousands of people lining the two-mile route to Santa Ifigenia cemetery shouting “Long live Fidel” as the cortege passed by.
The ceremony was led by Castro’s younger brother and successor Raul, who wore his green military uniform as he placed his ashes into what appeared to be a niche in his tomb, a simple round stone about 15ft high. The niche was then covered by a plaque bearing the single name “Fidel”. The ceremony was attended by Fidel Castro’s wife Dalia Soto del Valle, other members of his family and presidents Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, among others.
It lasted about 90 minutes and took place entirely out of the public eye after Cuban officials made a last-minute cancellation of plans to broadcast the start of events live on national and international television. International media were barred from the ceremony.
The tomb stood to the side of a memorial to the rebel soldiers killed in an attack that Castro led on Santiago’s Moncada barracks on July 26, 1953, and in front of the mausoleum of Cuban national hero Jose Marti.
Before the ceremony ended, martial music could be heard outside the cemetery, where Ines de la Rosa was among the mourners gathered. She said she would have liked to watch the ceremony on television, but “we understand how they as a family also need a bit of privacy”.
The decision to keep the ceremony private came the morning after Raul Castro announced that Cuba would prohibit the naming of streets and monuments after the former leader, and bar the construction of statues of him, in keeping with his brother’s wishes.
“The leader of the revolution rejected any manifestation of a cult of personality and was consistent in that through the last hours of his life, insisting that, once dead, his name and likeness would never be used on institutions, streets, parks or other public sites, and that busts, statutes or other forms of tribute would never be erected,” Raul Castro said.