President Raul Castro has led tens of thousands of Cubans in a pledge to defend the socialist legacy of his brother Fidel Castro, who died last week aged 90 and will be interred in the city where the Cuban Revolution was launched.
"This is the unconquered Fidel who calls us with his example," the president, dressed in his four-star general's uniform, told a crowd that had burst into chants of "I am Fidel" on Saturday night.
"Yes, we will overcome any obstacle, turmoil or threat in the building of socialism in Cuba," Raul Castro, 85, said in a speech before Santiago's packed central plaza.
Castro's ashes will be entombed near the remains of Cuba's independence hero Jose Marti, in a private ceremony beginning on Sunday at 7am (12:00 GMT), concluding nine days of national mourning.
Raul Castro was joined on the stage by leftist foreign dignitaries and the Cuban political leadership to bid farewell to the man known to most Cubans as "El Comandante" - the commander - or simply "Fidel".
After two days of events in Havana, Castro's funeral cortege departed on a three-day, 800km journey east, retracing the route that the triumphant rebels took upon overthrowing US-backed Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
Rejecting the 'cult of personality'
Raul Castro said "millions" had come out to pay tribute. Crowds have greeted the caravan along the whole route, with volunteers sprucing up bridges and houses with fresh paint in Castro's honour.
Although billboards with Castro quotes stand throughout the country and his portrait hangs from numerous government buildings and in private homes, Fidel Castro's image will not be immortalised with statues and public places will not be named after him, Raul Castro said.
|Students cheered at President Raul Castro's tribute to the former Cuban leader in Santiago [Edgard Garrido/Reuters]|
"The most interesting thing that he [Raul Castro] announced was that Fidel Castro before dying had specifically asked that there will be no statues built of him," said Al Jazeera's Lucia Newman, reporting from the ceremony in Santiago.
"Raul Castro said that his brother did not believe in the cult of the personality. So, he says that he will send legislation to the national assembly to make Fidel Castro's wishes law."
With his brother at his side, Castro began his revolution on July 26, 1953, with a failed assault on the Moncada barracks in the eastern city of Santiago.
He went on to build a Soviet-sponsored communist state 145km from the United States and survived a half century of US attempts to topple or kill him.
"He defeated the empire and defended his country," Alvin Bailey, a social activist who lived in Cuba and met Castro many times, told Al Jazeera.
"Algeria, Angola, Ethiopia, Chili... humble people of all shades knew he stood for the common man, wherever on the planet."
Castro's socialist government survived the fall of the Berlin Wall, but at the cost of more than a decade of great economic hardship that was relieved by the largesse of his political disciple, the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
"In the unipolar world, the one of transnationals that arose after the fall of the socialist bloc, the permanent lesson of Fidel is that, yes, it can done, man is capable of overcoming the most difficult conditions," Raul Castro said.
Over the past two decades, a clutch of leftist governments rose to power in Latin America inspired by his ideas and fierce opposition to the US. Several have now been defeated at the ballot box.
High-profile friends of Castro, including Bolivian President Evo Morales and former Brazilian Presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, arrived for the evening sendoff.
Lula was a close ally of Cuba when he was president from 2003 to 2010, as was his successor Dilma Rousseff, until she was impeached this year.
|A cadet carries an image of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro [Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters]|
Source: Al Jazeera News and Agencies