HAVANA TIMES — Since Thursday, hundreds of thousands of Cubans across the island are flocking to pay posthumous tribute to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who was one of the island’s most loyal friends.
“There are and have been other presidents loved by Cubans — such as those in Argentina and Ecuador, Brazil’s Dilma and Lula, and Salvador Allende — but none like Chavez,” said engineer Rigoberto Cardenas, visibly moved. He recalled: “Chavez showed great solidarity with us. When the socialist camp collapsed, it was Venezuela that held us out a helping hand.
In Havana’s Revolution Square, the line for people to pay their respects is several blocks long and has not ceased moving at any time. The atmosphere is one of mourning, with many people like young Leo Martin who cried, “I feel like we lost one of us.”
Beside him, carrying a large photo of Chavez, was Mrs. Nancy Casamayor, who explained to us: “We love him, we love him and we will continue to love him for the rest of our lives. The first thing I thought about was my commander (Fidel), the pain he must have felt with the death of his son, his disciple and that damn cancer took him away.”
Cuban authorities deployed buses throughout all neighborhoods of the capital to provide transportation to those people who wanted to pay their last tribute. Nonetheless, many people found their own way.
One of those was truck driver Jose Leon. In pain, he told us: “Anyone else except Chavez should have died, because he was good people. Look at what he did in 14 years. He led his country out of poverty, provided his people with education, health care. In short, he turned them into true human beings.”
Among the participants in the tribute was a group of people who are blind. One of them, Jorge Luis Cabrera, said Chavez “was a person who was always seeking Latin American unity and always stood up for the poor. He continued the thinking of our commander, Fidel, and did many things for the poor. What’s more, Chavez has many commonalities with us – like his love for sports, his concern for culture and for the disabled. That’s why we feel for him like a brother.
It was surprising how many young people came to the Revolution Square, people like 20-year-old student Dalia Rosabal, who told us: “We (Cubans) mourn this great loss, and we would like to extend our deepest condolences to the Venezuelan people. Chavez is a symbol of Latin American unity and integration. He is one more Cuban who honors us and who taught us so much.”
Few tragic events in Cuba have had such importance. The only comparisons are the death of Commander Ernesto “Che” Guevara in the 60s and, a decade later, the wake for 70 young people killed when anti-Castro groups downed a passenger plane.
In the line to pay tribute to Chavez, people are talking about his straightforward speech, his constant jokes and his easy laughter. They’re saying he had the charm of a people’s leader. It seemed to be no coincidence that almost all the respondents told me they considered him another Cuban.
(*) Visit Fernando Ravsberg’s blog (in Spanish).