Probably one of the most influential persons of the 20th century, Fidel Castro has passed at the age of 90 on Friday night at 10:29 pm. The news was announced on state television by his brother President Raul Castro. Cuba has declared nine days of mourning after the death of Castro, probably one of the most important leaders in Latin America history. The burial ceremony is to be held on December 4.
He was an icon and a symbol that represented the modern day Cuba. In 2012, Time Magazine called Castro one of the 100 most influential personalities of all time. Fidel was symbolic of the struggle of the poor, a David vs Goliath battle. He was the president of Cuba for more than 50 years. In 2006, he handed power to his brother Raul Castro for a short period of time because of ill health. Later, in 2008, he retired and Raul Castro became president.
Castro became Cuba’s president on January 8, 1959, when he and his revolutionary soldiers entered the city of Havana and succeeded in overthrowing the dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Fidel’s legacy is a powerful one. For more than 50 years he defied U.S. government policy. It is well known that he survived more than 600 assassination attempts by the CIA.
He was responsible for immense social change in Cuban society in terms of healthcare, culture and education. Fidel made healthcare accessible and free to all Cuban citizens. Research and development in the health and pharmaceutical sector forced Cuban scientists and doctors to innovate, making huge advances in cancer, diabetes and HIV vaccines. Cuba became a major contributor to global health by providing its doctors and medical staff to the world, a higher contributor to world health than all the G8 nations combined. Literacy rates, thanks to free education, increased to 99.7%, one of the highest in the world.
Heads of government reacted to the death of Fidel on Saturday, expressing their sympathy and remembering the Cuban leader and the influence he exerted on world events and history.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, a close ally of Cuba, spoke Venezuelan Television station Telesur, offered words of sympathy, saying, “we will keep on winning and keep fighting. Fidel Castro is an example of the fight for all the people of the world. We will go forward with his legacy.”
China one of Cuba’s largest trade partners, expressed condolences with the simple statement by Chinese President Xi Jinping, “comrade Castro will live forever.”
A statement from the Spanish government recalled Castro as “a figure of enormous historical importance… As a son of Spaniards, former president Castro always maintained close relations with Spain and showed great affection for his family and cultural ties. For this reason Spain especially shares the grief of Cuba’s government and authorities.”
François Hollande, Prime Minister of France tweeted, “Fidel Castro was a towering figure of the 20th century. He incarnated the Cuban revolution.” Hollande also said Castro embodied the Cuban revolution in both its “hopes” and “disappointments,” and “pride in rejecting external domination.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “the name of this distinguished statesman is rightly considered the symbol of an era in modern world history… Fidel Castro was a sincere and reliable friend of Russia.”
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev tweeted a picture of himself with the Cuban leader, saying Castro had “a keen interest in events in the world and Russia.”
From Mexico, President Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted in his Twitter account that, “Fidel Castro was a friend of Mexico, promoter of a bilateral relationship based on respect, dialogue and solidarity.”
The Whitehouse also issued a statement from President Barack Obama, on the passing of Fidel Castro:
“At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans – in Cuba and in the United States – with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.
For nearly six decades, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was marked by discord and profound political disagreements. During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us, pursuing a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends – bonds of family, culture, commerce, and common humanity. This engagement includes the contributions of Cuban Americans, who have done so much for our country and who care deeply about their loved ones in Cuba.
Today, we offer condolences to Fidel Castro’s family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people. In the days ahead, they will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who was in Cuba a few weeks ago on an official visit expressed his condolences on the Canadian government website:
“It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President.
“Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.
“While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for “el Comandante”.
“I know my father was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father passed away. It was also a real honour to meet his three sons and his brother President Raúl Castro during my recent visit to Cuba.
“On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.”
A press release from the Organizing Commission of the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba announced that on November 28 a tribute will be held at the José Martí Memorial from 9:00 am until 10:00 pm. On November 29 at 7:00 pm a rally will take place in the José Martí Memorial Square.
On December 4th, Fidel Castro’s ashes will be taken to the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba.