A Good-by to Fidel in Santa Ifigenia

by Rosa Miriam Elizalde / Cuba
(translated Arnold August)
reprinted from Cubadebate
Dec. 5, 2016

raul-deposita-urna-fidelAt 6:50 in the morning, the ashes of Fidel Castro enter the gate of the Cemetery of Santa Ifigenia. It is a splendid Sunday morning, unusually cool in this Caribbean city, as if the winds had been confabulated to receive the Commander in Chief over the land of Cuba.

When in front of the administrative building of Santa Ifigenia the military armor that has been passing through most of the Island with the cedar urn stopped, the members of the Political Bureau are already lined up with Army General Raúl Castro Ruz at the head near the esplanade opposite the austere monument where the ashes will rest. The mausoleum is a polished stone, just like those that abound on the banks of the Rio Cauto, but this one is granite, weighs more than 2,400 kilograms per square centimeter and comes from the site of Las Guásimas, east of Santiago de Cuba. In the heart of the rock, there is a square block where the urn goes, protected by a plaque bearing a single word: Fidel.

There are other details from this site that moves, delimited by ferns, palms and the purple caliphs of the Sierra Maestra, which also accompany the Mausoleum of the Combatants of the Second Front, where lies Vilma Espín. To the right, a concrete wall where you can read in golden letters the concept of Revolution that Fidel expressed on May 1, 2000 and that Cubans have endorsed in these days of mourning.

Fidel is not alone in Santa Ifigenia. He is accompanied by Cubans whom he worshiped in life, beginning with José Martí, the martyrs of the Moncada barracks and those killed in internationalist missions. On the horizon, the mountains of the Sierra Maestra. A few steps from his tomb, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, Mariana Grajales, 32 generals of the wars of Independence against Spanish colonialism, brothers Frank and Josué País ….

When the band performs the notes of the cantata “Eterno Fidel”, the small urn that was kept inside the cedar box, reaches the hands of Dalia Soto del Valle, his wife, who is the emblem of dignity and pain. Behind her is the family and just opposite, on the other side of the Mausoleum, more than 40 international guests, friends of the Commander and personalities who attended the event yesterday in the Antonio Maceo Plaza. When the ark with the ashes reaches Raúl, his hands no longer tremble. He places it against his chest, raises it to the hole in the interior of this great stone and allows a long sigh. This moment of the ceremony lasts no more than three minutes, but they weigh as hours on the shoulders of all present. There are tears in the faces of the tanned guerrillas, the women and men who are here. But there are no regrets, no shouts, no gestures that distract the solemnity of these moments.

In the distance one can only hear the march from the Antonio Maceo Plaza to the nearby necropolis: “I am Fidel”, “I am Fidel”, and that is the only sound that will alternate, like an echo from afar. This resounded throughout the ceremony with the National Anthem, the mournful march, the steady steps of the soldiers of the Department of Ceremonies of the Armed Forces and the salutes of the artillery.

After placing the cap on the niche, everything happens much faster. Attention. National anthem. 21 artillery salutes. A recording with the voice of Fidel that returns to us the concept of Revolution. The changing of the guard of honor, both the one previously formed before the Mausoleum of Martí, and the one that escorts the place of rest of Fidel. Those present, including escorts and companions who took care of the leader of the Revolution in his later years, deposit white roses at the base of the pantheon. The line begins with Raúl and ends with the Argentine Diego Armando Maradona, and between one and another the presidents Nicolás Maduro – Venezuela-, Daniel Ortega – Nicaragua-, Evo Morales – Bolivia-, Denis Sassou-Nguesso – Congo-, Malatu Teshome- Ethiopia-, Alfred Marie-Jeanne- Martinica- and the former leaders, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, from Brazil.

As previously announced, it has been a solemn and private ceremony. Moreover, although it was not said in the note that announced the farewell in Santa Ifigenia, it is not surprising that it is also deeply moving, the ceremony being escorted by its beloved beings and those who have passed away, without more luxury than the rocks and ferns of the mountains. At 7:40 in the morning the last mourners at the cemetery of Santiago de Cuba left. Fidel rests in peace. Until forever, Commander.