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More than 100 mourners bid farewell to Cuba's last first lady - In Spain, she will be buried with husband

WEST PALM BEACH -- More than 100 mourners Saturday bid farewell to Cuba's last first lady.

Marta Fernandez Miranda de Batista was the second wife of ousted Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. She died Monday after a heart attack in September left her homebound. She had also suffered from Alzheimer's. She was 83, according to one of her sons.

Marta Batista's death is symbolic for the thousands of Cubans, who like her have never been able to return home. Married to the last president to hold office in Cuba before Fidel Castro rose to power, she was one of the first exiles to flee as a result of the Cuban revolution.

Her husband actually ruled as Cuba's president twice: Once, after he led the "Sergeants' Revolt" that deposed then-president Carlos Manuel de Cespedes , and again from 1952 to 1959 after he led a second coup to depose president Carlos Prio Socorras.

Marta Batista fled her homeland with her husband and three of her children on New Year's Day 1959 as Castro's rebel forces closed in on Havana. Her body is to be flown to Spain, where she will be buried next to her husband in Madrid.

During the wake, mourners sipped coffee while family and friends who had not seen each other in years kissed, hugged and took the opportunity to rekindle friendships.

A procession of cars then followed the hearse a few miles to St. Juliana's Catholic Church where a Mass was held in her honor.

"Many years ago she put into practice her faith," said Father Jose Angel Crucet, one of three priests to conduct the Mass. "She established schools in the fields, and hospitals, and the Saint Barbara sanctuary."

After leaving the island, and after her son Carlos died of leukemia and her husband's death, the former first lady contributed to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami and supported several leukemia and cancer foundations.

After leaving Cuba in 1959, Fulgencio Batista was denied entry to the United States. Marta Batista followed her husband to the Dominican Republic for a short stay before going to Portugal and then Spain. She resettled in West Palm Beach after her husband died.

"We didn't know we were never going back to Cuba," said Roberto Batista, who, along with his brother Jorge Luis, left the country a day before his parents. "It was very sad talking about it."

Like many Cubans in exile, Marta Batista often spoke longingly of the country she left behind." She missed her homeland dearly," Roberto Batista said. "She had always wanted to go back."

To her grandchildren, most of them born in Spain, she told stories about how she met then-Gen. Fulgencio Batista.

"She was riding a bicycle when he ran her over," her granddaughter Esther Batista said.

It was 1937, and although Fulgencio Batista was married, he fell in love with Marta, who was 20 years his junior.

Her family described her as elegant and poised.

"She had a beautiful temperament," granddaughter Esther Batista said.

In 1940, Fulgencio Batista was democratically elected president of Cuba. When his term expired, he decided to tour Latin America with Marta. They settled in a house near the Halifax River in Daytona Beach after they married in 1945.

The couple donated a large collection of art to the city of Daytona in 1957.

"She always got close to the most needy," her son Roberto said. "But after my father died she lived a more secluded kind of life."

The Mass in her honor ended with a song that touched on the themes familiar to so many Cuban exiles.

"On the sand, I left my raft," mourners sang. "With you Lord, I seek a new home."