Havana Spruces up for Tributes to Late Leader Fidel Castro | NBC Bay Area
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Havana Spruces up for Tributes to Late Leader Fidel Castro

Throngs of islanders are expected to visit to pay their respects

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    Students place candles around an image of the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro, at the university where Castro studied law as a young man, during a vigil in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016.

    Workers spruced up the Cuban capital's sprawling Revolution Plaza and began setting up fencing Sunday in preparation for two days of tributes to deceased leader Fidel Castro.

    Throngs of islanders are expected to visit to pay their respects to Castro's remains there starting Monday in the shadow of Havana's towering monument to independence hero Jose Marti and a huge sculpture of revolution leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

    The Communist Party newspaper Granma published an extensive list of planned street closures and information on how Cubans will be able to access the square. Authorities called on islanders to go there to make a "solemn oath of fulfillment with the concept of the revolution."

    "It is a great sorrow. Everyone is feeling it," said Orlando Alvarez, a jeweler who was fishing on the seaside Malecon boulevard in the morning. "Everyone will be there" at the square.

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    Cuba's government declared nine days of national mourning following Castro's death Friday night at age 90, and this normally vibrant city has been notably subdued since. On Saturday night, the Malecon, Havana's social center, was all but deserted, with dozens of people instead of the thousands who normally go to party there on weekends.

    "I have never seen this square so quiet," Spanish tourist Miguel Gonzalez said as he took pictures of Revolution Plaza.

    A mass public ceremony is planned at the square Tuesday.

    Elian Gonzalez, who as a boy survived a shipwreck and became the center of an international custody battle in Florida in 2000, said Castro will still be with Cubans despite his death.

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    It's "not right to talk about Fidel in the past tense ... but rather that Fidel will be," Gonzalez said Sunday in an interview with state television. "Today more than ever, make him omnipresent."

    "Fidel was a friend who at a difficult moment was with my family, with my father, and made it possible for me to return to my father, to return to Cuba," he said.

    Gonzalez was a young boy when he, his mother and others attempted a sea crossing between Cuba and the United States nearly two decades ago. His mother died on the voyage, but he survived and was taken to Florida. A bitter dispute broke out between his relatives in the United States, who wanted him to stay there, and his father back home.

    Castro made the issue a national cause celebre and led huge demonstrations demanding Elian be returned to his father. U.S. authorities eventually sent him back to Cuba.