Yo Soy Fidel

Reflections on Cuba during the nine days of mourning the death of Fidel Castro

Our love affair with Cuban music had been short and sweet, brought to a sudden end with the news on the morning of Saturday 26th November, two days into our stay in Havana. The daughter of the owners of the casa approached me at breakfast with tears in her eyes. She told me how the country had heard some terrible news and that their commander and leader, Fidel Castro, had died the night before. She was ridden with grief and for the next two days of our stay she could barely look us in the eyes, let alone smile. Her state was to reflect that of many people we were to meet over the rest of the trip, saddened by the loss of their ‘comandante’. Nine days of mourning were called, starting from Sunday afternoon. Music and alcohol were prohibited. The Plaza de la Revolucion provided a space where Cubans could come and show their respects to their beloved leader, filing passed a picture of him and signing a condolence book. Similar books were also placed in other locations in the city and country, so there wasn’t much excuse for them not to go and sign one… Museums closed, clubs were closed at night and bars remained empty. Our bedtime for the next nine days was to be about 9pm. 

Newspapers in the days following Fidel’s death

The TV was to only broadcast two channels that played the news reflecting on the life of Fidel, and interviewed people about how he had affected their lives. Journalists spoke to Olympians, musicians and actors who told of how they owed their successes to Fidel. Another video that caught my attention was entitled “Fidel en Raul” and showed clips of the brothers together, illustrating how much Raul had learnt from his brother and taken from him. Upon reflection, it may be that with the loss of a man deemed irreplaceable, the Cubans need to feel confident in the continued leadership of Raul even though the guidance of his brother is no longer available. 

Flag flying at half mast in Plaza Mayor, Viñales 

Over the following nine days our plans for a daily mojito whilst listening to salsa became a distant dream, whilst the Cubans said a somber farewell to the leader that had changed and forged Cuba’s history through his fight against capitalism and for revolution for the people. Even for many Cubans, the nine days was to feel long, drawn out and according to some, a bit too much. Regardless of their thoughts on the nine days, we didn’t meet a single soul who did not refer to Fidel respectfully as “Nuestro Comandante”, and it was clear that the man who had led them through the revolution and had been revered as a saint-like father was undoubtedly going to be missed. To have been in Cuba during such a historical and monumental time was truly an incomparable, once in a lifetime experience.

“Hasta Siempre Comandante”
One of many posters on doors on homes in Cienfuegos

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