RFE/RL November 28, 2016
Tens of thousands of Cubans have been paying their last respects to Fidel Castro as they file past an urn in Havana's central Revolution Square containing the ashes of the fiery revolutionary who clung to power for nearly a half-century before handing over to his brother a decade ago.
The two-day public farewell to Castro in the Cuban capital began early on November 28 and should culminate in a mass rally on the square, where the controversial Cuban leader frequently gave speeches excoriating the United States, trying to export Marxism, and touting major elements of Soviet life.
Castro, who died aged 90 on November 25, often won praise from socialists for leading a revolution in 1959 that toppled a corrupt government and extended health care and education to ordinary citizens.
But those achievements came at the cost of crushing his fellow citizens' right to voice criticism or form political parties without fear of imprisonment, according to activist groups and Cuban exiles.
In Havana's Revolution Square, a massive nine-story image of a young Castro carrying a rifle has been hung on the front of the National Library.
The government has said mourners will "render homage and sign a solemn oath to carry out the concept of the revolution expressed" by Castro.
Castro effectively stepped down for medical reasons in 2006, leaving the running of the country to his brother, Raul.
Foreign leaders are expected to attend the public rally at the end of the day on November 29.
The Kremlin announced on November 28 that Putin will not be attending Castro's funeral and that the Russian delegation will be headed by State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin.
Russia is one of Cuba's closest allies, reflecting Castro's prominent role in the Cold War.
Castro died of causes that have not been disclosed but he had long suffered from serious intestinal illness. His remains were cremated on November 26.
The government has declared a nine-day period of mourning that will include transporting his ashes in a procession across eastern Cuba before they are interred on December 4 in the southeastern city of Santiago.
The man Cubans called "El Commandante" (The Commander) came to power at age 32 when he led a revolution to topple U.S.-backed Fulgencio Batista.
Show Trials, Executions
He eliminated hundreds of members of the toppled government in a series of show trials and summary executions.
Admirers see Castro as a visionary who stood up to the United States, brought health care and education to the poor, and inspired socialist movements across the globe.
But critics say he was a tyrant who jailed his opponents and destroyed Cuba's economy with a failed socialist experiment that caused economic hardship and sparked an exodus of hundreds of thousands of Cubans to Florida to seek a better life.
Castro survived a failed U.S.-backed invasion attempt by Cuban exiles seeking to overthrow his rule in 1961, an event that contributed to Castro's close ties with the U.S.S.R.
In 1962, Moscow's dispatch of missiles to Cuba, and Washington's demand that they be removed, escalated into one of the biggest crises of the Cold War and brought the world the closest it has come to nuclear war.
Castro's younger brother Raul officially became president of the one-party state in 2008.
Dissidents in Cuba say they are staying home during the mourning period and expect political repression to continue on the island despite Fidel Castro's death.
Cuba's dissident Ladies In White movement called off its regular weekly protest on November 27, with its leader Berta Soler saying she wanted to avoid being accused of committing acts of "provocation."
According to a 2016 report by HRW, thousands of dissidents continue to be jailed in Cuba each year. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2016/country-chapters/cuba#2a25cf
U.S. President Barack Obama launched a cautious rapprochement with Cuba in his second term, in part through executive actions that could be reversed under President-elect Donald Trump.
Trump threatened on November 28 to abandon the detente with Havana unless Cuban officials offered "a better deal for the Cuban people."
With reporting by Reuters TV, AFP, and AP
Source: http://www.rferl.org/a/cuba-fidel -castro-last-respects- funeral/28144287.html