Santiago de Cuba expects huge crowds for Fidel Castro's final farewell

After brief stop at El Cobre, procession ends 4-day journey in Santiago

SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Cuba – After a four-day journey attracting huge crowds, the Cuban government focused on their final farewell to Fidel Castro, who governed the island for 47 years and will be remembered for dragging the world to the brink of nuclear war when he sided with the Soviet Union during tension-filled negotiations with the United States.

Volunteers, students and government workers prepared the public areas of Santiago de Cuba for a rally at the Plaza Antonio Maceo on Saturday night. Preparations at the historic Cementerio Santa Ifigenia, where the Jose Marti mausoleum remains, began years ago.

"Fidel is Raul and Raul is Fidel," dozens shouted, as they marched in Santiago on Saturday morning. 

Foreign heads of state and journalists from all over the world made their way to Santiago, the second largest city on the island. Castro chose it as his final destination as a reminder of the birthplace of his fiery revolt against Fulgencio Batista. 

At the Moncada Barracks, where the Castro brothers fought July 26, 1953, teachers lined up students in uniform to witness the passing of the cortege. Some shouted, "Viva Fidel!"  And a sign at the entrance of Santiago said, "Rebellious yesterday, heroic forever."

Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona, who referred to Fidel Castro as his second father, was among the celebrities expected at the 7 a.m., funeral on Sunday. Maradona recovered from drug addiction in Cuba and offered Castro his support as his health declined with age. 

Cuban officials were enforcing a nine-day mourning period on the island that was set to end on Sunday afternoon. Dissidents reported surveillance, threats, beatings and arrests were the consequences for violators. 

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