President Higgins: Criticism of Fidel Castro tribute unwarranted

President Michael D Higgins has hit back at criticism of his tribute to Fidel Castro, saying it is “unsustainable and unwarranted”.

The President caused controversy after describing 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”.

Mr Higgins was accused of “airbrushing” over the tyrannical dictatorship.

However, in a move to quell the furore, a statement was issued to the Irish Examiner by his spokesman.

“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.

The Áras last night said the President will sign a book of condolences for Castro at the Cuban Embassy on Pearse St this morning.

Independent Alliance minister Finian McGrath described the death of Castro as a “very sad day” and claimed many of the human rights abuses spoken of were “exaggerated”.

Mr McGrath, who travelled to Cuba during the Castro regime, said Castro oversaw many positive developments, and he wanted to issue his “sincerest sympathies to the Cuban people”.

However, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin last night said: “The President could have been more balanced in his assessment of Castro.

“He was a major historical figure but he was a very authoritarian leader who didn’t accept dissent. He suppressed freedom of speech and did not tolerate political opposition. That cannot be airbrushed out of history.”

Mr Martin criticised Mr McGrath’s comments as being “over the top”.

“I was very taken aback by Finian’s comments,” said Mr Martin. “I think they were just not in the land of reality, to be frank. I thought he was ignoring the reality of the Castro regime, primarily because it was a failed economic regime, reliant on Russian subsidies.”

The Cuban government has declared nine days of mourning for Castro. His ashes will be carried across the island from Havana to the eastern city of Santiago in a procession retracing his rebel army’s victorious sweep from the Sierra Maestra to the capital.

Castro’s death was announced on Friday night on state television by his younger brother and successor as president, Raul.

Music fell silent, weddings were cancelled, and people wept in the streets the next day as Cubans faced their first day without the leader who steered their island to greater social equality and years of economic ruin.

However, in Miami, the heart of the US Cuban diaspora, thousands banged pots with spoons, waved Cuban and US flags, and whooped in jubilation

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