Castro's Ashes Make Their Way to the City Where His Revolution Began - My FrontPager

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Castro's Ashes Make Their Way to the City Where His Revolution Began

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SANTIAGO DE CUBA — For Cubans who live in this eastern city of Cuba, Fidel Castro's decision to lay his ashes to rest here was an obvious one.
Havana may be the political, economic and tourism capital of this Carribean island, but the mountainous region around Santiago de Cuba was where Castro's revolution, and others throughout the county's history, first got started.
"This is where he dug the roots of his tree of revolution," said Magdeline Fernandez Gomez, 72, a lifelong Santiago resident whose husband fought with Fidel's bearded rebels in the Sierra Maestra mountains nearby.


People throughout Santiago spent this week preparing for Castro's funeral. They swept sidewalks, painted fences, and prepared his grave site. The country has been honoring the fallen communist dictator all week, with a ceremony in Havana on Monday featuring eulogies from foreign heads of state and a four-day funeral procession east toward Santiago.
When his ashes are interred at a cemetery on Sunday morning in a small, family ceremony, it will complete a historic story that started in this rural, remote region.


Armando Labaceno, a history professor who has written extensively about Santiago's history, said eastern Cuba has always been isolated from the cosmopolitan capital so far west. The eastern region - known collectively as Oriente - viewed Santiago as more of a capital than Havana ever was. That's why Castro's parents, from the eastern city of Birán, sent a young Fidel to school in Santiago.

Labaceno said the region's isolation also bred a revolutionary spirit that has endured for centuries. Cuba's original freedom fighters - from Carlos Manuel de Céspedes to José Martí - had their strongest bases of support there.
So when Castro attempted his first uprising in 1953, he attacked the Moncada army barracks in Santiago. After he was arrested, freed and launched his second attack in 1956, he again landed in southeastern Cuba.


And while many remember him rolling into Havana in 1959 as the culmination of his rise to power, Castro actually declared victory a week before from a balcony over Céspedes Park in the heart of Santiago.
"Havana has always been the capital of Cuba, and we respect that Fidel had to live and work there," said Alberto Perez, 45, a refinery worker from Santiago. "But this is where Fidel's heart always was."
Castro's decision to be buried in Santiago also reflected a wish to be alongside Martí. The Cuban poet, writer, politician and freedom fighter is considered the original Cuban founding father. His statue dominates the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana, his writings are taught to schoolchildren like gospel and his image is seen on walls and murals as frequently as Castro's.


"Like bones to the human body, the axle to the wheel, the wing to the bird, and the air to the wing, so is liberty the essence of life," he wrote. "Whatever is done without it is imperfect."

Labaceno said Castro may have implemented a Marxist, communist system of government after taking control, but he said the teachings of Martí formed the true ideological basis for Castro's rule.
"Everything that's happened in Cuba, Martí imagined it, wrote about it, proclaimed it," Labaceno said. "Fidel was the one who best interpreted that."
That's why Gomez tears up when she thinks about the upcoming funeral, when a monument to Castro will be unveiled besides the monument to Martí in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery.


She said there, Castro and Martí will continue serving as inspirations to all of the residents of eastern Cuba who will be ready to strike if another revolution is needed.
"For us, Fidel will live always," she said. "We will continue his fight."


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