Saturday 24 February 2018

Michael D's Fidel eulogy 'offensive'

Senator slams tribute to Castro as 'an insult' and minister labels former leader 'a dictator'

REACTION: President Michael D Higgins praised Fidel Castro
REACTION: President Michael D Higgins praised Fidel Castro

Jerome Reilly and Philip Ryan

The President Michael D Higgins and the Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan differed sharply in their reactions to the death of Fidel Castro.

The President lauded the Cuban leader as "a giant among global leaders" while Minister Flanagan labelled Castro "a dictator".

And the President's tribute in which he expressed "great sadness" at the death of the communist leader was slammed by Independent Senator Ronan Mullen, who described the comments from the Aras as "fawning, offensive and wholly inappropriate".

The Minister for Foreign Affairs did not criticise the President, but his comments, following the announcement from Havana of Fidel Castro's death, were in stark contrast to the President.

Minister Flanagan branded Castro "a dictator who presided over a questionable regime with human rights issues".

"He was a very divisive figure embroiled in controversy for most of his career and there will be very mixed views on his legacy," the minister added.

In the early morning statement from the Aras, President Higgins said: "I have learned with great sadness of the death of Fidel Castro, founder of modern Cuba, and its Prime Minister from 1959 to 1976, as well as its President from 1976 to 2008."

The President continued: "Having survived some 600 attempts on his life, Fidel Castro, known to his peers in Cuba as 'El Comandante', became one of the longest-serving Heads of State in the world, guiding the country through a remarkable process of social and political change, advocating a development path that was unique and determinedly independent.

"Cuba achieved 100pc literacy many years ago and built up a health system that is one the most admired in the world. With economic growth rates similar to many other Latin American countries, inequality and poverty are much less pronounced in Cuba than in surrounding nations."

The President referred only in passing to the dark side of the Castro legacy.

"The economic and social reforms introduced were at the price of a restriction of civil society, which brought its critics," the President said.

President Higgins concluded: "Fidel Castro will be remembered as a giant among global leaders."

According to Amnesty International, severe restrictions on freedoms of expression and free movement continue in Cuba. Government critics are subject to "acts of repudiation", while "arbitrary arrests and detentions" are commonplace, the agency concluded.

And it said the judicial system also remains under political control.

"Journalists and human rights activists are routinely subjected to arbitrary arrests and short-term detention for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and movement."

Senator Ronan Mullen said: "Our President is silent regarding the long catalogue of abuses of power by Castro.

"President Higgins's comments are the mirror image of the attitude shown by American governments in the past to oppressive dictatorships, expressed in the phrase, 'He may be a bastard, but he's our bastard'. The difference is, that our President is not entitled to play politics like this... he has insulted the victims of communist rule of Cuba. And he has undermined his moral authority to criticise human rights abuses in countries across the world on our behalf."

Sunday Independent

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