Cuban government declares nine days of mourning for Fidel Castro


The Cuban government has declared nine days of mourning for the revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, who has died at the age of 90.

His ashes will be carried across the island from Havana to the eastern city of Santiago in a procession retracing his rebel army's victorious sweep from the Sierra Maestra to the capital.

State radio and television were filled with non-stop tributes to Castro. They played hours of footage of his time in power and prominent Cubans affectionately remembered him in interviews.

Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro exhales cigar smoke
(Charles Tasnadi/AP)

Castro's death was announced on Friday night on state television by his younger brother and successor as president, Raul.

Across the capital, dozens of Cubans said they felt genuine pain at the death of Castro. His words and image had filled schoolbooks, airwaves and front pages since before many were born.

Bars shut, baseball games and concerts were suspended and many restaurants stopped serving alcohol and planned to close early. Official newspapers were published on Saturday with only black ink instead of the usual bright red or blue mastheads.

And in private conversations, Cubans expressed hope that Castro's death will allow their country to move faster towards a more open, prosperous future under Raul Castro.

Both brothers led bands of bearded rebels out of the eastern Sierra Maestra mountains to create a communist government 90 miles from the United States.

Raul took over from his ailing brother in 2006. The 85-year-old has allowed an explosion of private enterprise and also restored diplomatic relations with Washington.

A Cuban flag flies half-mast in Havana, Cuba
(Desmond Boylan/AP)

"Raul wants the country to advance, to do business with the whole world, even the United States," said Belkis Bejarano, 65, in central Havana. "Raul wants to do business, that's it. Fidel was still holed up in the Sierra Maestra."

On Saturday, many Cubans on the island described Fidel Castro as a towering figure who brought Cuba free healthcare, education and true independence from the US.

(Esteban Felix/AP)
(Esteban Felix/AP)

But they also said he saddled the country with an ossified political and economic system - leaving streets and buildings crumbling.

"Fidel was a father for everyone in my generation," said Jorge Luis Hernandez, a 45-year-old electrician.

"I hope that we keep moving forward because we are truly a great, strong, intelligent people. There are a lot of transformations, a lot of changes, but I think that the revolution will keep on in the same way and always keep moving forward."