Cubans on the Caribbean island reacted with muted disbelief and stunned sadness Saturday to news of the death of Fidel Castro, who led the communist country officially and symbolically for nearly six decades.
The news began spreading late Friday, as Cubans deciphered what his death means to the future of their country, which had seen incremental economic reforms for a decade that accelerated following renewed ties with the United States two years ago. Castro was pronounced dead at 10:29 p.m. Friday in Havana, according to Cuban news sites. He was 90.
Castro's body will be cremated, according to his wishes. Cuba declared nine days of mourning, during which time his ashes will be transported across the country, ending in Santiago de Cuba. A burial ceremony will be held there on Dec. 4.
Official Cuban news sites used the occasion to proclaim that Castro’s legacy would live on beyond his death. “Until victory always, Fidel!” exclaimed the official Cuban portal, Cubadebate.cu.
The portal juventurebelde.cu announced that Castro’s death “is not a goodbye, it’s an until always Fidel.”
Yoanni Sanchez, an independent journalist and outspoken critic of the Castro regime, tweeted out that rumors of Castro’s death were so frequent over the years that some Cubans were reacting with indifference to his actual death.
“Some say goodbye with pain, others with relief,” Sanchez tweeted. “Most with a touch of indifference.”
Others reacted with grief. "I'm very upset. Whatever you want to say, he is a public figure that the whole world respected and loved," said Havana student Sariel Valdespino, according to Reuters.
Castro, in failing health for a decade, handed the presidency to his younger brother and fellow hardliner, Raul, in 2008.
The last images of Fidel were made public earlier this month, when he met with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang at his residence. He was last seen in public celebrating his 90th birthday on Aug. 13 at the Karl Marx Theater in Havana, according to the 14ymedio.com news portal.
Despite his frail condition that kept him mostly homebound, Fidel was still influential behind the scenes, commenting on every major government maneuver.
After President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba in March, Fidel Castro wrote a blistering rebuke in Cuba’s Granma newspaper about Obama’s speeches on the island.
José Jasán Nieves Cárdenas, a Havana-based blogger and staff writer at eltoque.com, said Fidel’s death will likely be met with widespread sadness on the island. But his passing could spur reforms, as Cuba’s leaders will be less worried about making changes without public reprimands from Fidel.
“In the future, his absence could help decisions be made without fear that Fidel later denounces them publicly,” Cárdenas said in an email exchange. “He won’t be there to evaluate every decision and any fidelista argument will be based on his words, not on him directly.”
Cubans were feeling a mix of pain over Fidel Castro's passing and satisfaction at the advances in health care and education he left behind, said Carlos Alzugaray, a political analyst in Havana and former Cuban ambassador to the EU. "Fidel Castro had an enormous influence in Cuba and the world," he said via email.