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article imageIn Havana, music stops as Cubans mourn 'father' Castro

By Hector Velasco (AFP)     Nov 26, 2016 in World

Cubans will likely forever remember where they were when Fidel Castro's death was announced. The music stopped across the dance-happy city and people rushed to awaken loved ones with the news.

Parties shut down and the bustling streets emptied after President Raul Castro, Fidel's 85 year-old younger brother, made the announcement on state television around midnight Friday.

"Everyone was stunned. It was a very sad moment," said Yaimara Gomez, who was working in a hotel at the time.

Unlike various occasions over the years, this time it was not a hoax: the man most Cubans grew up with as their country's leader had died.

People gather along the "Malecon" in Havana  Cuba early on November 26  2016 after the new...
People gather along the "Malecon" in Havana, Cuba early on November 26, 2016 after the news that Cuban revolutionary icon Fidel Castro had died late Friday
Yamil Lage, AFP

"With great pain I appear before you to inform our people and our friends in the Americas and the world that today, November 25 at 10:29 pm, the Commander in Chief of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, passed away," the president said.

He gave no details of the cause or circumstances of the death. It was assumed Castro died at his Havana home where he lived after stepping aside from power in 2006 following intestinal surgery.

Car washer Marco Antonio Diez, 20, was out at a party when the music suddenly stopped.

"I went home and woke up everyone, saying: 'Fidel has died,'" he told AFP. "My mother was astonished."

- 'Like losing a father' -

As the news spread, crowds danced and celebrated in the streets of Miami, home to the largest Cuban exile community and their descendants.

But in Havana, locals mourned.

Cuban Americans celebrate upon hearing about the death of longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro in the ...
Cuban Americans celebrate upon hearing about the death of longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Florida on November 26, 2016
RHONA WISE, AFP

"Losing Fidel is like losing a father -- the guide, the beacon of this revolution," said Michel Rodriguez, a 42-year-old baker.

He was still in his shop late at night when he heard the news on the radio.

"What can I say? Fidel Castro was larger than life. I always wanted to die before him," said Aurora Mendez, 82.

She recalled a life in poverty before Castro's revolution in 1959.

"Fidel was always first in everything, fighting for the downtrodden and the poor," she said.

Choking back tears, Irma Hierrezuelo, 65, said she had gone on medication "for my nerves" after learning the news.

"He was my second father," she said. "I owe my nursing studies -- I owe everything -- to him."

Screengrab showing Cuban President Raul Castro announcing the death of his brother Fidel Castro in H...
Screengrab showing Cuban President Raul Castro announcing the death of his brother Fidel Castro in Havana on national television on November 26, 2016
, Cuban Television / PIB/AFP

The government decreed nine days of mourning and ordered flags to be flown at half-mast.

Castro's ashes will be buried in the historic southeastern city of Santiago de Cuba on December 4 after a four-day procession through the country, it added.

Santiago was the scene of Castro's ill-fated first revolution attempt in 1953.

As the news spread around the world, local media seemed taken by surprise: even the state newspaper Granma took about five hours to put the story on its website.

- 'Never forgotten' -

Castro was loathed by many for stifling dissent, but loved by others for providing free universal healthcare and education.

Cuban President Fidel Castro taking part in the city of Holguin  during the inaguration of an electr...
Cuban President Fidel Castro taking part in the city of Holguin, during the inaguration of an electricity generating plant, as part of the ceremony marking the 53rd anniversary of the assault on the Moncada barracks by rebels led by Castro
Adalberto Roque, AFP/File

He came to power in 1959 as a black-bearded, cigar-chomping 32-year-old in a revolution against former dictator Fulgencio Batista.

"I was born under this revolution and I am truly sad," Micaela Consuegra, a street-sweeper of 55.

"He was a unique man, with his faults and his virtues. It is a great loss. He is a man who will never be forgotten, by his friends or his enemies."

Blanca Cabrera, a 56-year-old housewife, came out into her garden to smoke a cigarette after hearing the news.

"It is hard to believe that Fidel has gone," she told AFP, her face showing her distress.

She recalled Castro's last public speech, to the Communist Party congress earlier this year, when he seemed to see the end was near.

"Everyone's turn comes," Castro said at the congress in April.

"He prepared the people for this moment," Cabrera said.

"But he will still be with us for years to come. That soothes the pain."

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