Jeremy Corbyn hails late Cuban leader Fidel Castro as 'huge figure in history'
Jeremy Corbyn has hailed Fidel Castro as a "huge figure of modern history" and praised the former Cuban leader's "heroism".
The Labour leader appeared to play down the charges of human rights abuses levelled at the Cuban revolutionary, who has died aged 90, saying that "for all his flaws" he would be remembered as a "champion of social justice".
But other senior Labour figures highlighted the brutality of the Castro regime and its lack of democratic accountability.
A long-standing supporter of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Mr Corbyn said: "I think history will show that Castro was such a key figure, it seems he has been with us forever."
The death of Mr Castro 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, Mr 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."
Challenged that he was overlooking allegations that the Castro regime was involved in suppressing basic human freedoms, Mr 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."
He acknowledged "there were problems and there are problems of excesses by all regimes" but "we have to look at the thing in its totality" and Mr Castro had "seen off a lot of US presidents".
But former home secretary Jacqui Smith said: "I 've criticised US policy on Cuba but the reason Castro 'saw off' so many US presidents is because they're democratically elected."
Labour MP Ian Austin said: "It's true Fidel Castro outlasted 10 US presidents, but unlike them he didn't have to stand for election. And he could imprison his opponents."
Mike Gapes, a former chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, highlighted a Human Rights Watch report that illustrated "much worse than just some 'problems and excesses' in Cuba".