Castro supporters prepare to pay respects in 'weirdly quiet' Havana

Aziel is a Cuban cab driver, fiercely patriotic, and an unapologetic defender of Fidel Castro, who he says was one of the best presidents in the world.

Tell him what Castro’s detractors have to say about his regime — thousands jailed, thousands executed, lack of basic freedoms — and he just shakes his head.

“Lie, lie, lie, lie,” he says as he drives his taxi van through the mostly quiet streets of downtown Havana on Sunday night.

“I don’t know what is this word ‘freedom’ that people use,” he says. “I don’t know. I don’t pay taxes in Cuba, my education is free. The hospitals are 100 per cent safe.”

Castro, he says glowingly, was a “big man.”

But not all have such kind words for the former president.

“Everybody has to die,” was the only comment from one man who didn’t want to be identified.

Castro gave her family ‘everything’

Castro’s death at the age of 90 has sparked both praise and condemnation for the man worldwide. Yet it will be his supporters who will come in droves to the Jose Marti Memorial at the Plaza de la Revolución over the next two days.

On Sunday night, the large square was barren, save for a trickle of tourists and some workers preparing the area for the next couple days. But on Monday, thousands will likely wait in line for hours to pay their respects to Castro’s cremated remains.

As part of the nine days of national mourning, a special caravan on Wednesday carrying the casket with Castro’s remains will begin the long trek across the country to the city of Santiago de Cuba, where the revolution was launched.

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A woman holds a child beside an image of Fidel Castro in downtown Havana on Sunday. (Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters)

The 1959 revolution is still a source of great pride for some here, particularly for those alive during the battle. When Marea Luz was just a little girl, her mother and father joined the revolution with Castro, an act she said, the Cuban leader would not forget.

“He remembered us. He gave my father, my mother a new house, a car, everything.”

That’s why Luz, sitting on 23rd street in downtown Havana, waiting for a bus, says she’s sad that Castro is dead.

Even Yaser Estrada, a 29-year-old doctor, who was born nearly 30 years after the revolution, says it’s the reason that his death will affect so many Cubans.

“I think all Cubans are deeply sad about his death because he was the principal personality that [went] ahead with the Cuban revolution,” Estrada said. “His loss has been painful for all the Cuban people.”

Estrada was one of a number of young people sitting in groups, hanging out on 23rd Street, many of them deeply engaged in their cell phones and tablets.

Hopes for status quo

This street, like many others in downtown Havana, was relatively quiet and subdued, except for the dozens of journalists crammed into the International Press Centre waiting for their press credentials and complaining about the Wi-Fi.

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A woman identified as Rafaela Vargas mourns the death of former president Fidel Castro at the entrance of her home in the Vedado neighborhood in Havana on Nov. 26. (Desmond Boylan/The Associated Press)

Luis Ocho said all Havana is indeed “weirdly quiet” as he, and others wait or brace for an uncertain future. Although he would like to see more openness, he said he doesn’t expect the death of Castro will instigate much change.

Ocho suggests he hasn’t been all that impacted by Castro’s death, that it hasn’t made him feel any differently and that he agreed that Castro may hold more relevance for older Cubans.

Sergio Borroto, 24, said Castro has “meant nothing [for] a long time.”

He said hopes Castro’s death ushers in a better relationship with the U.S. and that future president Donald Trump will build some hotels in Cuba.

Meanwhile Estrada said he doesn’t believe much will change, which is fine by him.

“I prefer how it is now. “

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