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17 April 2024

Barack Obama will not attend Fidel Castro's funeral

Fidel Castro


President Barack Obama will not attend Fidel Castro's funeral, the White House said Monday, demurring on the question of who would lead the US delegation.

"The president will not be traveling to attend the funeral of Fidel Castro," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

Obama has sought to thaw tensions with Cuba, but stopped short of meeting Castro during a landmark trip to Havana earlier this year.

Castro's leftist allies join Cuban farewell

Fidel Castro's leftist admirers in Latin America will join grieving Cubans on Tuesday at a massive ceremony in honor of the late communist firebrand while Western leaders shun the commemoration.

For a second straight day, Cubans will file past a memorial installed inside the central monument at Havana's Revolution Square to pay tribute to the man who ruled the island for nearly half a century.

On Monday, hundreds of thousands of people, many in tears, streamed past a picture of a young, black-bearded Castro in military fatigues during the revolution that brought him to power in 1959.

"Fidel was the best thing that happened to us," said Ley Castano, 32, an engineer wearing a Batman baseball cap who played a game on his smartphone while waiting in line.

"Thanks to him I was able to study, graduate and serve the revolution," he said.

At hundreds of schools, hospitals and other public buildings across the island, Cubans were invited to sign an oath to "keep fighting" for the revolution.

Cuban state television showed Castro's brother, Raul, signing the same pledge along with top officials at a private ceremony in the armed forces ministry, where a rectangular, dark wood urn containing his ashes was shown.

The urn will be taken on a four-day, cross-country tour starting Wednesday, culminating with a ceremony in Santiago de Cuba, where his ashes will be laid to rest.

Notable absences

But first, the tributes will expand on Tuesday to include some of Castro's closest allies, who venerate him as a socialist icon whose revolution brought free education and health care to his impoverished island.

But the absence of Western leaders highlights the polarizing legacy of a titan of the Cold War accused by his enemies of ruling as a dictator and jailing political opponents.

Some 25 leaders from Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa are flying into Cuba for funeral rites and a large gathering at the Revolution Square late Tuesday.

One of Cuba's closest allies is Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose late mentor Hugo Chavez had a special bond with Fidel Castro and helped the island's economy by providing it with cheap oil.

He will be accompanied by Ecuador's Rafael Correa, Bolivia's Evo Morales and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, all spiritual sons of the Cuban revolution.

Several African leaders are also making the trip, including Zimbabwe's veteran leader Robert Mugabe, Equatorial Guinea's longtime ruler Teodoro Obiang Nguema and South African President Jacob Zuma.

There will be at least one European leader at the ceremony, as Cuban officials said leftist Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was on the list.

But other Western leaders are shunning the event or sending subordinates in their place.

US President Barack Obama, who along with Raul Castro ended decades of enmity to restore US-Cuban diplomatic relations, is not attending the ceremonies and the White House demured on the question of who would lead the US delegation.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who visited Cuba this month, is not going but his country will be represented by its governor general.

French President Francois Hollande, who made a historic visit last year, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are also sending others to represent their countries. Britain's Prime Minister Theresa is staying away and the government has not announced if anyone is going.

Trump threat

While Raul Castro has reached out to Washington, the election of Republican billionaire Donald Trump could upend the rapprochement.

The president-elect renewed a threat to end the thaw unless Havana makes concessions on human rights and opening up its economy.

"If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the US as a whole, I will terminate deal," he said on Twitter on Monday.

Manuel Rodriguez Oliva, a 73-year-old interior ministry retiree who paid tribute to Castro at the Revolution Square, said Trump is "paranoid and crazy."

"He can break relations. We have lived without them and we will keep on living."