Castro’s ashes in marathon procession to Revolution’s birthplace

Fidel Castro, who built a Communist state on the doorstep of the United States, died on Friday aged 90.

The urn with the ashes of Cuban leader Fidel Castro leave the Revolution Square in Havana starting a four-day journey across Cuba, November 30, 2016. The "caravan of freedom" will leave from Havana, making symbolic stops along the 950-kilometer trek that will end in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba over the weekend. Picture: AFP.

HAVANA - Draped in the red, white and blue national flag, Fidel Castro's ashes were borne through Havana on Wednesday, at the start of an island-crossing trek to his final resting place in eastern Cuba, where the first shots in the Cuban Revolution were fired.

Castro, who ruled Cuba for half a century until 2008 and built a Communist state on the doorstep of the United States, died on Friday aged 90, plunging the Caribbean nation into nine days of mourning.

He was cremated on Saturday. It will take the cortege carrying his ashes three days to make the 900 km journey eastward across his eyebrow-shaped land to Santiago de Cuba, going back along the route taken by his bearded revolutionaries in their victory march to Havana in 1959.

The city´s Revolution Square on Wednesday morning, wending its way along Havana´s seafront drive the Malecon. The box containing Castro´s ashes sat in a glass case on a small flatbed trailer towed by a green military jeep, rimmed in white flowers.

"We came to see the ashes because he made history," said Cecilio Salgado, 58, who traveled from Havana´s outskirts to bid farewell to Castro. "He deserves a tribute like this. He is the best thing that could have happened to us."

The interment will take place on Sunday morning.
On Tuesday night, tens if not hundreds of thousands of Cubans, as well as leaders of Cuba's leftist allies and other developing countries, gathered in Havana's Revolution Square for a service commemorating "El Comandante" (The Commander).

"He more than fulfilled his mission on this earth," Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose government supports Cuba's ailing economy with oil sold on favorable terms, told the massive crowd.

"Few lives have been so complete, so bright. He has left unconquered."
Castro was admired by many around the world, especially in Latin America and Africa, for standing up to the United States, instituting free education and health care, and sending doctors around the world on missions of mercy.

But others vilified him as a dictator who ruined the economy with his brand of socialism and denied Cubans basic human rights such as freedom of speech. Some two million Cuban-Americans live in the United States, the result of a steady stream of people quitting the country for political and economic reasons.

With the average state salary at $25 per month, many young Cubans look for ways to leave, seeing little future in their homeland.

A pall of silence has settled over Havana's usually buzzing streets since the mourning period began. Officials have banned live music, and suspended the professional baseball season and sales of alcohol.

Nationwide, Cubans have lined up to sign condolence books and pledges to honor Castro's socialist ideology. State media continue to play tributes on a loop.

Tens of thousands of Cubans are expected to line the route of the caravan carrying Castro's ashes toward Santiago, where he first launched his revolutionary movement in 1953 with an assault on the Moncada barracks.

Later, after his bearded guerrillas deposed US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, they swept down from the Sierra Maestra mountains into Santiago, before making their victory march westward towards the capital.

WATCH: Cubans mourn death of former leader Fidel Castro