President Michael D Higgins signs Book of Condolences for Fidel Castro
President Michael D Higgins was the first to sign the book of condolences for Fidel Castro at the Cuban embassy in Dublin today.
The President arrived with his wife Sabina and wrote a message expressing his sympathy on behalf of the people of Ireland to the Cuban people.
President Higgins was initially expected to speak to the media after signing the book, but this did not happen. He expressed his condolences to the Cuban Ambassador to Ireland Dr Hermes Herrera personally before leaving.
He wrote: "On behalf of the people of Ireland to express their sympathies to the people of Cuba on the passing of former Head of State Fidel Castro Ruiz. Por la sacrificio de la gente (for the sacrifice of the people)."
Speaking after President Higgins signed the book, the Cuban Ambassador addressed the reaction to the President’s previous statement calling Fidel Castro "a giant among global leaders" and said that he was ‘not surprised’ by the controversy.
“The international press have a very negative view of Cuba. I am Cuban; I know it is not true what they are saying,” Dr Herrera told the press.
“We are helping more than 66 countries, mainly with health but also teaching and other areas. That is possible because the majority of the Cuban people support the revolution and that's why we can survive and help.”
A spokesperson for President Higgins confirmed yesterday that he would not attend the funeral for Mr Castro.
When asked whether he was disappointed that the funeral would not be attended by the President or any government ministers, Dr Herrera said: “We have a very difficult financial situation; the people who decided to go are welcome but unfortunately not everyone could be invited.”
The President has faced criticism from a number of politicians and public figures following his comments about the former Cuban leader yesterday.
His statement said that Castro’s "view was not only one of freedom for his people but for all of the oppressed and excluded peoples on the planet."
A spokesperson for the President yesterday said:
"The President's statement clearly referred to the price paid for social and economic development in terms of civil society and the criticisms it brought."
He added that human rights organisations in Cuba "have always had the support of the President".
"Any suggestion that the President neglected human rights concerns is both unsustainable and unwarranted.
"The President has discussed human rights concerns with representatives of the government of Cuba on every occasion he has had meetings, in Cuba, Ireland and elsewhere," the spokesman said.