By Nelson Acosta and Ana Isabel Martinez
HAVANA (Reuters) – Cubans will begin massing on Havana’s Revolution Square from Monday to commemorate Fidel Castro, the communist guerrilla leader who led a revolution in 1959 and ruled the Caribbean island for half a century.
Castro died on Friday at the age of 90, a decade after stepping down due to poor health and ceding power to his brother Raul Castro.
Castro was cremated on Saturday and a nine-day period of mourning declared. His ashes will be carried in a cortege to a final resting place in Santiago de Cuba, the city in eastern Cuba where he launched the revolution.
The government has invited people to Revolution Square for a two-day ceremony starting at 9 a.m. EST (1400 GMT). The urn holding the late leader’s ashes could be displayed.
Workers rushed to install speakers and light standards in the plaza, where a giant photograph of Castro was draped over the national library, the same space where an enormous poster of Jesus Christ was hung for last year’s visit by Pope Francis.
“Who is not going to be affected by a man who did everything for us?” said Jose Luis Herrera, part of the 12-person crew to hang the giant image. “He is the one who guided me and my children. He is my god.”
If previous public memorials are any guide, Raul Castro and other government, Communist Party and military leaders will lay flowers near the monument to Cuban national hero Jose Marti, followed by a long line of ordinary Cubans.
The ceremony in the capital will end on Tuesday night when foreign leaders are expected to pay their respects to a man who dedicated his life to fighting capitalist and colonial oppression, aligned his country with the Soviet Union and outlasted nine U.S. presidents who had sought to oust or undermine him.
Some world leaders will be notably absent.
The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin would not attend the funeral as he was preparing for a major speech. His close ally and speaker of the Russian State Duma or lower house of parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, would lead the Russian delegation, it said.
North Korea called for three days of mourning and said it would keep flags at half mast to honor Castro, its state news agency said.
And in Japan, Kyodo said that a senior lawmaker would head to Cuba in lieu of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
BIRTHPLACE OF THE REVOLUTION
A cortege will carry Castro’s remains east across the 750-mile-long (1,200-km long), eyebrow-shaped island to Santiago de Cuba. His cremated ashes will be laid to rest in the birthplace of the revolution when the mourning period ends on Dec. 4.
Along the way, admirers will mourn a man that many here saw as a visionary who stood up to U.S. domination of Latin America, brought healthcare and education to the poor, and inspired socialist movements across the world.
But critics, including exiles concentrated largely in Miami, have celebrated Castro’s death, saying he was a tyrant who jailed his opponents, banned opposition parties and wrecked Cuba’s economy with a failed socialist experiment.
Reacting to his death, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump called Castro “a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades.”
Trump has also has threatened to reverse outgoing President Barack Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba, which included restoring diplomatic relations and easing a half-century economic embargo.
Tourists passed through Revolution Square on Sunday, snapping photos and taking joy rides in classic U.S. cars from the 1950s that are still widely used.
“What I have been impressed with is the love that the Cuban people had for him,” said Martha Pons, a Mexican tourist who came to Cuba to attend a Placido Domingo concert on Saturday that was postponed after Castro’s death.
Cuba’s rich variety of music, a soundtrack on the streets of Havana, has been muted since Friday night and the government has also temporarily banned alcohol sales and suspended the professional baseball season.
(Additional reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana, Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow, Tony Munroe in Seoul and William Mallard in Toyko; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Simon Gardner, Simon Cameron-Moore and Bernadette Baum)