Cuba in Mourning: See Photos from Castro’s Historic Funeral

Generations of mourners line the highways as Fidel Castro's flag-draped coffin is driven through Cuba to his final resting place.

Fidel Castro, Cuba’s longtime leader, died November 26, 2016. His funeral took place in Santiago de Cuba on December 4 after a four-day procession through his island nation.

National Geographic photographer David Guttenfelder tracked the procession, travelling either just ahead of or just behind it. The convoy carried Castro’s remains in a small, flag-covered coffin inside a modest glass trailer.

Guttenfelder said it was clear Cuba was in mourning, and “highly encouraged” by the government to express its collective grief.

“It was definitely a subdued event,” he said, referring to the procession. “There was no alcohol for sale and no clubs open.”

A soldier salutes Fidel Castro one last time as the Cuban leader’s funeral procession passes through the main square of the city of Santa Clara on December 1. The remains of Castro, who died at the age of 90 on Friday, November 25, 2016, are making a four-day road trip across Cuba to the city of Santiago.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Cubans gather along a highway on the outskirts of Santa Clara as they wait for the funeral procession on December 1.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


Flags and sad faces greet the funeral procession as it stops in the main square of Santa Clara on December 1.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


School kids in the village of Esperanza have put on their young pioneer uniforms to take part in this historic event on November 30.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


Cubans cheer from the roadside in anticipation of the arrival of the funeral procession of Fidel Castro
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


A Cuban flag is unfurled outside the city of Las Tunas on December 2 before the funeral procession of Fidel Castro passes by.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


The funeral procession of Fidel Castro passes by a group of mourners.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


In the village of Esperanza, the funeral procession draws people into a street on November 30.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

In the countryside near Camaguey, a few mourners gather beside an open road, the route of the procession, on December 2.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


A cheer rises from the crowd in anticipation of the arrival of the funeral procession inVayamo on December 2.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


Soldiers and civilians pay their respects as Fidel Castro’s casketpasses through the main square in Santa Clara on December 1.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


A girl is carried from the crush of mourners in the city of Santiago. She collapsed on the side of the road as the funeral procession passed by on December 3.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


A woman rests against a vintage car at a gas station after Castro’s funeral procession passed throughVayamo on December 2.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


A veteran of the revolution listens to eulogies during a nighttime memorial service held at Santiago’s main plaza on December 3.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


The remains of Fidel Castro rolls past waving mourners on the streets ofVayamo, Cuba as the funeral procession of Fidel Castro continues east on Dec. 2, 2016.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Cubans photograph their family members in front of a Cuban flag and an image of Fidel Castro after the funeral procession passed through the city of Las Tunas on Dec. 2, 2016.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


Evening shadows lengthen as residents of the village of Esperanza wait for the procession on November 30.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

The government had organised the procession so that every road would be lined with people as it passed by. In some cases, rural roads with no towns nearby were lined with people whom the government had brought in on buses.

“What I saw most was people waiting,” he said. “They would go to their position on the road, with authorities telling them to stand at attention, some of them standing for hours in the sun.”

Despite the enforced mourning, there was a sense that each individual was also genuinely interested in observing the historic moment.

“There was true mourning and true curiosity. People would choose to be there, but it was also an obligation.”

The kinds of people waiting for the procession varied. Many were curious to see Castro as his hearse moved through streets and towns. “They had their signs and their flags and writing on their faces: ‘Yo Soy Fidel’ (I am Fidel). Everyone took pictures.”


Mourners line the route of the funeral procession outside the city of Camaguey on December 2.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Others had seen Castro before, and some knew him intimately. Guttenfelder was most interested in the latter group–military veterans who had fought in Castro’s early campaigns.

“The revolution-era fighters–old guys in their uniforms with their medals–impressed me. Whatever side people are on and whatever they think about Castro, it’s impressive to think that these men fought in the mountains with Castro and (his comrade in arms) Che Guevara.”

There were also generational differences in how the funeral was received. In one park equipped with WiFi, younger Cubans had gathered around laptops to watch El Clásico, the twice-yearly matchup between Spanish soccer teams Real Madrid and Barcelona that sends fans worldwide flocking to bars to cheer for their chosen team.

But in Cuba the only televised event was Castro’s funeral, forcing the young soccer fans to watch the game online.


PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

As the millennials watched the game, older Cubans arrived to scold them, admonishing them for the “disrespectful” behaviour that was distracting them from the sombre event.

Like many Cubans, just experiencing the funeral was what struck Guttenfelder as most significant.

“For me, I was just experiencing it as a historic moment: seeing the funeral procession of a man who, for 11 U.S. presidents, held his ground here and made himself one of the most recognisable people on earth.”

For Guttenfelder, it seemed like the “relic of a bygone era.”

Delaney Chambers is a senior digital producer at National Geographic.

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