Fidel Castro laid to rest in Cuba, ending nine days of mourning

SANTIAGO, Cuba, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Fidel Castro's ashes were laid to rest on Sunday, capping nine days of official mourning when hundreds of thousands of Cubans said farewell with a combination of tears, Castro-like defiance and choruses of "I am Fidel!" ringing out across the island.

A private ceremony was held at Santiago's Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, state media reported. Castro's cremated remains were due to be placed a few steps from the mausoleum of independence hero Jose Marti, another towering figure of Cuban history who Castro long admired.

Castro died on Nov. 25 aged 90. He had been out of power for a decade but never far from the center of public life, writing a periodic column on world and local matters and receiving foreign dignitaries at his home on the outskirts of Havana.

See global reactions to Fidel Castro's death:

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Global reactions to Fidel Castro's death
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Global reactions to Fidel Castro's death
A man looks at newspapers' front pages at a kiosk in La Paz on November 26, 2016, the morning after Cuba's historic revolutionary leader Fidel Castro died aged 90. One of the world's longest-serving rulers and modern history's most singular characters, Castro defied 11 US administrations and hundreds of assassination attempts. / AFP / AIZAR RALDES (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 26, 2016: Flowers at the Cuban Embassy in Moscow in memory of Cuba's revolutionary leader and former president Fidel Castro. Castro died aged 90 on November 25, 2016. Artyom Geodakyan/TASS (Photo by Artyom Geodakyan\TASS via Getty Images)
People watch a TV broadcasting news about the death of Fidel Castro of Cuba at the George F. L. Charles airport in Castries, St. Lucia, November 26, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
People celebrate after the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida, U.S. November 26, 2016. REUTERS/Javier Galeano
The Cuban flag flies half-mast as police prevent supporters of late Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro from advancing towards anti-Castro demonstrators outside the Cuban Embassy in Madrid, Spain, November 26, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
A woman combs her hair as a television set shows the news of the death of Cuba's former President Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba, November 26, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE
People celebrate after the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida, U.S. November 26, 2016. REUTERS/Javier Galeano
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 26, 2016: Flowers at the Cuban Embassy in Moscow in memory of Cuba's revolutionary leader and former president Fidel Castro. Castro died aged 90 on November 25, 2016. Artyom Geodakyan/TASS (Photo by Artyom Geodakyan\TASS via Getty Images)
People celebrate after the announcement of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida, U.S. November 26, 2016. REUTERS/Javier Galeano
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 26, 2016: Flowers at the Cuban Embassy in Moscow in memory of Cuba's revolutionary leader and former president Fidel Castro. Castro died aged 90 on November 25, 2016. Artyom Geodakyan/TASS (Photo by Artyom Geodakyan\TASS via Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 26, 2016: Flowers at the Cuban Embassy in Moscow in memory of Cuba's revolutionary leader and former president Fidel Castro. Castro died aged 90 on November 25, 2016. Artyom Geodakyan/TASS (Photo by Artyom Geodakyan\TASS via Getty Images)
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He gave Cuba an outsized influence in world affairs, but leaves a mixed legacy. He was feted by Nelson Mandela for helping end apartheid at a time the West supported the racist system, but also helped take the world to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis.

Forced to step down due to an intestinal ailment, Castro ceded power to his younger brother, current President Raul Castro, at first provisionally in 2006 and then definitively in 2008. Cuba has not revealed the cause of his death.

In keeping with his wishes, Castro's image will not be immortalized with statues nor will public places be named after him, his brother said on Saturday.

Initially the act at the cemetery was due to be carried live on television, but hours before official media announced it would be "solemn and private."

Cuban television cut from live coverage at the appointed hour of 7 a.m. EST (1200 GMT). At that moment in Havana, military cannons unleashed a 21-gun salute that thundered across the capital city. (Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Mary Milliken)

RELATED: The most bizarre CIA assassination attempts on Fidel Castro:

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The most bizarre CIA assassination attempts on Fidel Castro
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The most bizarre CIA assassination attempts on Fidel Castro

1. The Exploding Cigar

Perhaps the most famous attempt to kill Castro came in 1960 when the CIA poisoned a box of his favorite cigars.

Just a year after Castro seized power, the agency spiked the cigars with a botulinum toxin strong enough to kill anybody who put one in their mouth.

The cigars were delivered to an "an unidentified person" in 1961, according to the subcommittee, but it's unclear what happened to them after that.

Needless to say, they were never chewed by "El Comandante."

2. The Reluctant Cuban

Months earlier, at the end of President Dwight Eisenhower's term, the CIA used a series of middlemen to enlist two gangsters to help with Castro's removal.

The agency was willing to pay $150,000 (at least $1.2 million in today's money), according to the Church Committee's report.

These mobsters were Sam Giancana, the boss of the Chicago mob, and Santos Trafficant, the head of the mob's Cuban operations. Both of them were members of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list.

Giancana suggested that poison pills were more reliable than guns, so the CIA provided six pills of "high lethal content" to a cash-strapped Cuban official who had access to Castro, the subcommittee said.

However, after several unsuccessful attempts the Cuban got cold feet and the plan was abandoned.

3. The Painted Seashell

Undeterred, the CIA tried an even more elaborate plan in 1963.

Intelligence officials thought they could use Castro's love of scuba-diving to topple him. They planned to hide explosives inside a large seashell and paint it with exotic colors to lure the attention of the ocean-loving communist.

Like many others, this idea was "discarded as impractical," according to the committee's report.

4. The Contaminated Diving Suit

The same year, the CIA planned to contaminate one of Castro's diving suits with a fungus that would produce a chronic and debilitating skin disease.

The diving suit, as well as an infected breathing apparatus, was meant to be given to Castro by the American lawyer James Donovan, who had been involved in hostage negotiations with the Cuban leader.

This plan was abandoned after Donovan gave Castro a different suit.

Richard Helms, who would become CIA director, later called the plan "cockeyed" and said the suit never left the laboratory.

5. The Deadly Lover

If many of these attempts have the air of a hammy "James Bond" film, Marita Lorenz was Castro's femme fatale.

Lorenz told Vanity Fair in 1993 that, while she was Castro's lover in late 1959, she was recruited as a contract-agent for the CIA and tasked with assassinating the Cuban leader.

She was given two botulism-toxin pills to drop in Castro's drink, so her story goes. Just one would kill him in 30 seconds, but she got cold feet.

"I knew the minute I saw the outline of Havana I couldn't do it," she told Vanity Fair, describing her emotions on landing in the Cuban capital.

Even if she had wanted to kill him, she had botched the job. She said she stashed the pills in a cold-cream jar that made them gunky and unusable. In any case, Castro had her rumbled.

"He leaned over, pulled out his .45, and handed it to me," she recounted. "He didn't even flinch. And he said, 'You can't kill me. Nobody can kill me.' And he kind of smiled and chewed on his cigar ... I felt deflated. He was so sure of me. He just grabbed me. We made love."

Her story isn't as ironclad as the details uncovered by the Church Committee. But given the CIA's track record it seems far from implausible.

6. The Poisoned Pen

Another CIA that was straight out of "James Bond" was its plan to kill Castro using a hypodermic needle concealed within a pen.

The needle would be so fine that "the victim would not notice its insertion," according to the Church Committee.

Its report said the needle was to be rigged with poison and injected into Castro by a "highly placed Cuban official" who was in discussions with the CIA.

However, the Cuban official "did not think much of the device" and complained that surely the CIA could "come up with something more sophisticated than that?" the committee's report said.

The official also suffered bad timing. He was offered the pen on Nov. 22, 1963, the date of John F. Kennedy's assassination.

The event saw the agency withdraw its support of the attempt on Castro's life and the official never took the pen to Cuba.

7. The Psychedelic Speech

Not all of the attempts were on Castro's life: America's intelligence services initially tried other methods to undermine the leader's public image as a charismatic strongman.

In 1960, the CIA planned to sabotage Castro's speeches by spraying his broadcasting studio with a chemical that would make him suffer similar hallucinations to LSD.

Other plots included spiking the dictator's cigars with a chemical that would disorientate him, hoping he would smoke one before delivering one of his marathon oratory performances.

They also tried dusting his shoes with thallium salts — which would have made Castro's iconic beard fall out.

Like the hundreds of other plots against Castro, all failed.

The LSD-like substance was abandoned because it was too unstable, the cigars were never smoked, and Castro canceled the overseas trip that would have given spooks the opportunity to dust his shoes.

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