Castro’s death seen as pivotal moment for Cuba

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Havana, usually a noisy and colourful Caribbean capital, has put on its mourning clothes for the departed “maximum leader”.

If some are openly distraught, the more general mood is one of sombre reflection as Cubans honour the man who dominated and defined their island.

There are tears, certainly, but also anticipation for what this all might mean.

Fidel Castro ceded power a decade ago but his towering importance to Cuba is seen and felt everywhere.

His passing brought baseball and alcohol sales to a temporary halt and even persuaded his veteran opponents not to stage their regular Sunday protest march.

Poster of Fidel Castro in Cuba


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But the Cuban relationship to their former leader has grown into a complex one.

For younger generations his image is one from the history books and stories from their parents. He doesn’t mean the same to all of today’s Cubans.

Many respect him for putting their island on the world map, standing up to their giant neighbour 90 miles to the north. They appreciate good healthcare and education.

But many understand they lived under a dictatorship and are uneasy over lost freedoms and the crushing poverty that still pervades the island.

Fidel Castro addresses crowd in the 1970s in Havana.


Video:Fidel Castro dies: A life and times

On the streets of Havana, there is a sense that this is a pivotal moment.

“Cuba must go forward,” said Luis Dias. “The people want to go forward. We lived Fidel but there is a future.”

Cubans have already experienced the post-Fidel era, even if under his similarly-minded younger brother Raul, and they are focused more on the future.

A bigger moment will come when Raul Castro’s presidential term ends in early 2018.

He has signalled he will not seek another, perhaps the trigger for a significant generational change for Cuba.

The rapprochement with the US offers many Cubans a hope for a more open future, with all the associated economic benefits.

The homeowners now looking to join the Airbnb revolution – in contrast to the secretive days when they had to hide guests from strict government regulation – are an example of that future.

Cuba has changed rapidly in the 18 months. It is certain to continue its evolution with the figurehead of the past now gone.

The creaking infrastructure, the crumbling Spanish architecture, the 50s American beasts cruising potholed streets alongside 80s Soviet ones – the curiosity cabinet preserved in aspic, all loved by the tourists but now standing in contrast to a place that is changing.

Will the loss of such a totemic figure allow Cuba to move forward with greater freedom?

:: The remains of Fidel Castro are due to lie in state in central Havana today as the country enters a third day of national mourning. 

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