Jeremy Corbyn has hailed Fidel Castro as “a massive figure in the history of the whole planet”, following news of the former Cuban leader’s death.
The Labour leader praised the “heroism” of the revolutionary figure and commended the social changes he brought to the Caribbean island.
A long-standing supporter of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Corbyn’s views have courted controversy due to reports of widespread human rights abuses under Castro’s rule.
“I think history will show that Castro was such a key figure, it seems he has been with us forever,” he told the Press Association.
The death of Castro at the age of 90 was announced by his brother Raul Castro and followed years of speculation about his ill health.
In the years before becoming leader of the opposition, Corbyn visited the Latin America state several times and attacked US policy towards it.
Speaking during a visit to Oxford, where he had travelled to launch the party’s national campaign day for the NHS, he said: “Fidel Castro was a massive figure in the history of the whole planet, ever since the revolution in 1959.
“There are stories of his heroism while living in Mexico in exile and then the boat to Cuba, the march to Havana and the revolution in 1959.
“He managed to bring good quality health services to all the people of Cuba, good quality education to all the people of Cuba and, of course, he had a foreign policy which was global, but particularly important in Southern Africa in supporting Angola against the apartheid regime.”
The Labour leader also lauded progress the country had made in recent years in opposing the death penalty and accepting LGBT rights, as well as the mending of relations with America under President Obama, which he called “historic”.
He added: “History will show that Fidel was somebody who stood up for something very, very different in the Caribbean and many independent people would say how good health care and education are in Cuba compared to many other places in the world.”
Addressing concerns that he was overlooking allegations that the Castro regime was involved in suppressing basic human freedoms, Corbyn said: “I have constantly raised the issues of human rights abuses everywhere in the world and if LGBT people are wrongly and badly treated and people are denied the freedom of speech, then that is wrong.”
He added: “I have never shied away from raising human rights concerns in any country in the world in any circumstances and I never will.”