Finian McGrath: Human rights abuses in Cuba 'exaggerated'

Independent Alliance Minister Finian McGrath has described the death of Fidel Castro as a “very sad day” and claimed many of the human rights abuses spoken of were “exaggerated”, writes Daniel McConnell, Political Editor.

Mr McGrath, who travelled to Cuba during the Castro regime, said Castro oversaw many positive developments.

He said President Michael D Higgins was “correct” in his sympathetic comments in a statement issued in the wake of Castro’s passing at the age of 90.

Mr McGrath added that the President was merely reflecting the view of a large amount of Irish people.

The Aras tonight confirmed that the President will sign a book of condolences for Castro at the Cuban Embassy tomorrow morning on Pearse Street in Dublin.

Mr Higgins has been accused of “airbrushing” over the tyrannical dictatorship of Fidel Castro in a statement marking his death at the weekend.

There has been an angry response to President Higgins after he described Castro as a “giant among global leaders whose view was not only one of freedom for his people but for all of the oppressed and excluded peoples on the planet.”

A spokesman for President Higgins issued a statement to the Irish Examiner.

“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. This obviously and unambiguously included the Human Rights organisations and activists who have always had the support of the President, the statement said.

“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.

Mr McGrath said he wanted to issue his “sincerest sympathies to the Cuban people”.

It is a very sad day, he said adding that he totally respects the position taken by President Higgins and supports it fully.

“Castro’s legacy in Cuba is positive one,” he said.

He continued that in his view, having visited Cuba, some comments made yesterday about the extent of human rights abuse have been greatly exaggerated.

He said Castro was the product of a viscious revolution in 1947 and while Castro had his flaws like everyone else, his impact on Cuba was largely positive. He accused “history revisionists” of trying to re-write the story of Castro’s Cuba.

Mr McGrath said on RTÉ Radio that major progress in human rights in the past 20 years.

“Of course there were times where people were not people treated in the proper way. Everybody has their flaws. There were restrictions to society in Cuba, I accept that,” he said.

Human rights groups like Amnesty International said from their view, Castro was guilty of significant human rights abuses and his record as a dictator must be considered in full.

Colm O’Gorman, head of Amnesty International in Ireland, stopped short of directing the President directly but said the abuses under Castro were clear.

Fianna Fail’s Foreign Affairs spokesman Darragh O’Brien also described Castro as a “political giant” but said the President’s message lacked balance which he disagreed with. He said Castro had ruled unelected over a one-party state where there was no opposition.“

“The President’s statement was not as balanced as it could have been. There were no elections in Cuba, a one party State. In this instance, like in others, he should be called out,” Mr O’Brien said.

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