A Nhan Dan reporter’s memoir

Farewell, Fidel Castro—A great, close friend of Vietnam

Thursday, 2016-12-01 13:17:12
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Prime Minister Pham Van Dong welcomes his Cuban counterpart, Fidel Castro, in the war-torn province of Quang Tri during the Cuban leader’s first visit to Vietnam in September 1973. (Credit: VNA).
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NDO—Nhan Dan reporter Van Nghiep Chuc, who is accompanying National Assembly (NA) Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan on her visit to the friendly country of Cuba to pay tribute to late Cuban leader Fidel Castro, recalled his memories of the Caribbean nation and his sentiments towards Comrade Fidel, a great friend of Vietnam.

The solemn memorial in commemoration of Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s passing was held at Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba at 7pm on November 20, local time (early in the morning on November 30, Hanoi time).

From early morning, hundreds of thousands of Cuban people lined up along the streets heading to José Martí Memorial. There, about one million people gathered for the ceremony to express their sincere emotion and pay homage to the late revolutionary leader.

A pure life, a glorious career

On the stands, Cuban President Raúl Castro, dressed in his military uniform, chaired the commemoration for his comrade and elder brother. Numerous heads of state and world leaders were present at the event.

Below was a vast sea of people from all social strata and the armed forces, including many students and cadets cradling photos of Fidel in their hands. During the ceremony, they chanted “I am Fidel!,” “May Fidel live forever!,” “Long live the Revolution!,” “Fatherland or death!,” “Solidarity brings certain victory!,” “To victory forever!” and other slogans.

At the extremely painful and touching moment, speaking at the memorial service before the people of the friendly country, Vietnamese NA Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan sincerely conveyed her deepest condolences on behalf of the high-level delegation of the Party and State of Vietnam and Vietnam’s leaders and people to the fraternal Cuban people and, especially, to the family of Comrade Fidel.

NA Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan writes in the funeral book to pay tribute to late Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba. (Credit: NDO)

Chairwoman Ngan stressed that the passing of Comrade Fidel, a historic and legendary leader, was a huge loss for the Communist Party of Cuba and the fraternal State and people of Cuba. The international movement for communist revolution has lost a resilient, courageous and seasoned leader.

The Vietnamese delegation led by Ngan was the first high-level international delegation to arrive in Cuba to mourn Comrade Fidel. On its first day in the friendly country, NA Chairwoman Ngan wrote in the funeral book in a solemn and emotional atmosphere, expressing the profound sorrow and infinite grief of the Party, State and people of Vietnam upon the passing away of Comrade Fidel Castro, an outstanding leader of the Cuban Revolution, a great friend, a close comrade and a very faithful brother to the Party, State and people of Vietnam.

The world’s leaders have been full of praise over the past few days for Comrade Fidel’s great contributions to the international communist and workers’ movements over the course of more than half a century. They have noted Fidel’s illustrious name, great career and humanistic revolutionary ideology, which will live forever in the endeavours of the Cuban Revolution and in the hearts of progressive and peace-loving people around the world.

In these days of national mourning, the busy streets that are usually bustling with cultural and touristic activities have turned calm. Hotels, commercial centres, restaurants and cafés have fallen silent and honking on the streets is very rare. Millions of Cuban have been left distressed over their great loss since they received news of their leader’s passing. Many recreational activities have stopped.

In front of offices and residences, flags fly at half-mast, while large photos of Comrade Fidel in the midst of his revolutionary activities are on display everywhere in public. An influx of people from all over the world, including many foreign tourists, has flocked to Revolution Square. They have come here, quietly and orderly queuing and patiently waiting to their turn to visit a hugely respected man who has long been present in the hearts of millions of people, overcoming the geographical distance.

On the occasion of Comrade Fidel Castro’s demise, NA Chairwoman Ngan continued to affirm Vietnam’s consistent solidarity with the cause of its Cuban brothers’ revolution, asserting her determination to continue to strengthen and further deepen the special relations between the two brother countries. Arriving at a memorial dedicated to President Ho Chi Minh in Peace Park in Havana to lay flowers at the site, Ngan met and talked with faithful Cuban friends who were in Vietnam during the war years. Comrade Ngan and the other Vietnamese delegates expressed their pleasure at being received with such warmth and intimacy by the Cuban people as if they were visiting their relatives back at home.

Vietnam is always proud of the pure and consistent relationship between the two Parties and the two peoples. That relationship has stood the test of time and is now an exemplary symbol of friendly relations in this era. NA Chairwoman Ngan said the Cuban nation and Comrade Fidel would always remain in the hearts of each Vietnamese person!

Vietnamese queuing to pay homage to Cuban leader Fidel Castro at the Cuban Embassy in Hanoi. (Credit: NDO)

Symbol of special lofty friendship

Many members of the Vietnamese delegation visiting Cuba to mourn Comrade Fidel once had the honour of studying in the country, later returning to Vietnam to take up key positions in many agencies. They said all of them would never forget Comrade Fidel’s merits and his great contributions to nurturing and developing the special solidarity, mutual trust and comprehensive cooperation between the two countries. The relationship has been forged and tested in revolutionary struggle, and it continues to be an extremely valuable asset for the peoples of the two countries on the path of construction and development.

In the surge of emotion, several members of the delegation who had studied and worked in Cuba reminisced of their unforgettable memories of the country and the Cuban people, as well as its beloved leader, Fidel. Nguyen Dinh Bin, former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Nguyen Xuan Phong, former diplomatic staff for the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam and former counsellor at the Embassy of Vietnam in Cuba, recalled a rare moment in their lives: when they had the honour of accompanying President Fidel Castro as interpreters on his first visit to Vietnam in September 1973.

Forty-three years ago, when Vietnam’s struggle for national reunification was still at a fierce stage, Cuban President Fidel Castro travelled halfway around the world visit to Vietnam and visited the front lines in Quang Tri. The comrade expressed his desire to witness the fierce battle and struggle of the heroic Vietnamese people while meeting with comrades and soldiers in the south.

He was the only foreign leader to visit the liberated zone in southern Vietnam at that time. The visit left a deep impression at marked a milestone in the history of friendly relations between the two peoples.

On the morning of September 15, 1973, a special flight brought President Castro, a Cuban Government delegation and Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong to the city of Dong Hoi in Quang Binh Province, and they then continued traveling by automobile to Quang Tri. After a meeting with representatives from the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam at Cam Lo, Quang Tri, the Cuban leader visited and attended a mass rally at Peak No. 241 and the recently liberated Tan Lam area. The battlefield, where fighting had just finished, was strewn with bullets, tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery left by the enemy.

With his imposing stature, the famous leader, dressed in his olive green uniform and wearing cap and boot, stood next to southern Vietnam’s liberation soldiers. He waved the flag of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, shouting loudly as a marching order: Vietnamese comrades, plant this invincible flag in Saigon! See you in Saigon after the complete liberation of the South! Two years later, this would become a reality. Vietnam was completely liberated. The flag was flying on the roof of the Independence Palace in Saigon!

Cuban leader Fidel Castro waves the flag of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam during his visit to the Quang Tri battlefield in 1973. (Credit: VNA)

In the war-torn Central region, at Peak No. 241 in Cam Lo District, Comrade Nguyen Xuan Phong was responsible for providing simultaneous translation of Comrade Fidel’s speech. On his visit to Cuba to mourn Comrade Fidel, Phong unveiled the original full-text translation of that speech.

Comrade Fidel’s convincing gestures, strong voice and forceful appeals are still as fresh as if he had given the speech yesterday. It reads: “... We travelled more than 20,000 kilometres to get here. This is a symbol of the love, friendship and great solidarity of our people for and with the people of Vietnam. Day after day, the Cuban people are watching the struggle of the people of Vietnam. And today, Cuba is delighted to be the first friendly country and the first government to appoint an official delegation to the liberated zone in southern Vietnam. Our delegation is extremely honoured to have this meeting with heroic soldiers like you, with a heroic people like the people of southern Vietnam. No one has fought as hard and unyieldingly for their independence as the people of Vietnam... Let us recall history from the moment the beloved President Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam’s independence. Time and again, the people of Vietnam have fought a tenacious struggle to protect their independence, and they always win ..."

Comrade Fidel said, “Today, with infinite gratitude and admiration for you, we relive glorious victories. We remember tens of thousands of Vietnamese heroes who gave their blood for the freedom of their motherland. But their efforts were not in vain. Their sacrifice was not in vain. From their blood pouring down rises an indomitable and victorious Vietnam!

“Eternal glory belongs to the heroic martyrs who sacrificed for the country!

“Long live the heroic Vietnamese people!

“Long live Cuba-Vietnam friendship!”