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President Michael D Higgins rejects criticism of comments about Castro

Published 27/11/2016

President Michael D Higgins rejected claims he ignored human rights concerns in a statement marking the death of Fidel Castro
President Michael D Higgins rejected claims he ignored human rights concerns in a statement marking the death of Fidel Castro

The President has rejected claims he ignored human rights concerns in a statement marking the death of Fidel Castro.

Criticism of the comments in which Michael D Higgins described the former Cuban president as a "giant among global leaders" has been unwarranted, his spokesman said.

A statement issued on Sunday 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.

"In all of his speeches on human rights the President has emphasised the universality of human rights and has never shirked from the presentation of that view."

On Saturday Mr Higgins said Fidel Castro would be remembered 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".

His spokesman added: "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 President made a further reference to civil society later in his statement in the context of the opportunities provided by restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States, and the response which has come from the visit of Pope Francis. The President was here referring to the release of prisoners.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan said President Higgins was "entitled" to make his own views known about Mr Castro.

He told RTE the former Cuban leader was a complex figure with a mixed legacy.

Mr Flanagan said: "I very much respect the right, in the first instance, but also the view of Michael D Higgins.

"If you go back over the last 40 years, no one in Irish politics has done so much work or had such a level of association with Latin American politics than Michael D Higgins himself."

Speaking on the same programme, Fianna Fail's spokesman on foreign affairs, Darragh O'Brien, said Mr Higgins' statement was not as balanced as it could have been.

Nine days of national mourning have been announced in Cuba following Castro's death at the age of 90.

He took power in 1959 and introduced a one-party communist state which he ruled for nearly half a century before handing over the presidency to his brother Raul in 2008.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein said it's leader, Gerry Adams, intended to fly to Cuba for the funeral.

Mr Adams said: "Fidel Castro was a global leader and a good friend of the Irish people.

"I am proud and honoured to travel to Cuba to represent Sinn Fein, as we remember Fidel Castro."

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