Por Martha Cabrales Arias
Santiago de Cuba, Nov 29 (Prensa Latina) When Fidel Castro’s remains are buried here at Santa Ifigenia Cemetery on Sunday morning, December 4, there will be a new and powerful reason to consider it an altar of Cuba.
Very close to National Hero Jose Marti, in the Mausoleum that perpetuates his memory, the burial site of the Commander-in-Chief will be another magnet for Cubans and foreigners interested in and motivated by the pages of glory of a revolution of nearly one and a half century.
Founded in 1868, the same year that the wars for Cuba’s independence started, it was the third major cemetery in the country and it gained more notoriety after 1951, when the monument to the Apostle was inaugurated.
As time went by, in both the 19th and 20th centuries, like the city, Santa Ifigenia was the epicenter of the Cubans’ struggle for independence, and like the capital of the former Oriente province, its cemetery became a funerary landscape that summarizes national history.
The spiritual treasure that it keeps includes, in addition to Marti’s tomb, that of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, who initiated the 1868 war and who is considered the Father of the Homeland, as well as the graves of 30 generals of the liberation wars.
Also buried at Santa Ifigenia are Mariana Grajales, the mother of the Maceo brothers, that noble lineage; the young men who attacked the Moncada Garrison, most of whom were massacred after the military action led by Fidel on July 26, 1953, and clandestine fighters like Frank and Josue Pais.
Those patriotic values are complemented by patrimonial, sculptural and architectural virtues, so it is considered an outdoors museum and it was designated a National Monument in 1979.
Since July 30, 2007, an eternal flame, lit by President Raul Castro in the frontal area of the necropolis, has added symbolic strength to the Cubans’ perennial tribute to those killed while fighting for national sovereignty and dignity.
I WOULD LOVE TO MARCH WITH THEIR SAME MILITARY DEMEANOR
The permanent guard of honor that started before Jose Marti’s remains on May 19, 2002, on the 107h anniversary of his death in combat, added solemnity to the funerary ambience and has since then raised curiosity and admiration among those who visit Santa Ifigenia.
Under the sensitive and demanding look of Commander of the Revolution Juan Almeida Bosque, city authorities and especially from its military region, with advice from Cuban experts, were involved for months in the preparations for the ceremony.
The ceremony starts every morning at sunrise and ends at sunset. The rite is accompanied by the musical accords of ‘Elegia a Jose Marti’ (Elegy to Jose Marti), composed by Almeida, and its climax is reached during the change of guard every half an hour.
With participation of students from military schools from several Cuban provinces, the guard gets special connotation in historic dates related to Marti’s birth and death, as well as other crucial events in Cuban life.
One of the military officers in charge of commanding such a special mission recalls the visit paid shortly after by then President Fidel Castro to attend the change of guard executed by young Military Service recruits.
After watching attentively the rhythmic steps of the young members of the guard and during a spontaneous dialogue with them and their chief, Fidel expressed his admiration for their military demeanor and wished he could have done it like that in his youth, when he did not have that kind of training.
Fidel’s surprise presence left a pleasant feeling of sharing minutes of privilege with a legendary man, in an atmosphere of cult.