As news broke on Saturday morning of Fidel Castro’s death, the Embassy of Cuba in the capital, which is usually shut on Saturdays, opened its gates to visitors who had come to pay homage to the revolutionary. As the Cuban flag flew at half-mast, the staff waited patiently to hear from their country on how to proceed.
While the official condolence book would not be opened till Monday, several guests, including ambassadors of as many as 12 countries, visited the embassy. Cuban ambassador Oscar Martinez Cordoves told The Indian Express that he would always remember Castro as “the symbol of dignity of the Cubans”.
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“I will remember him first for his green olive uniform, as our commander-in-chief, fighting against our historical enemy. He was an example for everybody. He was always ready to develop new ideas for our people, and we will remember him as the symbol of dignity of the Cubans. He was a leader who was in touch with his people, nice to everybody. He never imposed his ideas on anybody,” he said.
Cordoves said Castro’s stand during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis made him special.
“We received military support (against US) from the Soviet Union and from Communists and the Left from Latin America and all over the world. But he took a principled position in that moment — to maintain peace but also maintain our independence and sovereignty,” he said.
He added that even with Castro gone, Cuba will remain the same. “The future will be the same with Fidel or without Fidel. He left us a legacy. Although physically he died, the way he organised Cubans, his ideas will always remain in practice. According to the new situation in the world, we will change and we are changing, but inside of our idea of social justice of society. We will keep strengthening out socialist system,” Cordoves said.
At the embassy, several guests paid tribute in a small room, with portraits of Castro on the wall and a Cuban flag near a table. They also signed an informal condolence book. “We have come to pay homage to someone who became the most iconic figure of the 20th Century dignity, sovereignty and Latin American independence. Someone who became an example for all the people of the world who struggled for peace, freedom and independence against imperial powers,” Augusto Montiel, the Venezuelan ambassador, said.
Manuel Mbela Bama Ndong, ambassador from Equatorial Guinea, lauded Castro for the medical facilities in his country. “He tried to ensure every person has at least one plate of food to eat every day. He loved his country; he was a nationalist,” he said.