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Saturday 3 December 2016

'Castro was an unelected dictator, no one ever voted for him', says Varadkar

Students of Havana University pay tribute to Cuba's late President Fidel Castro as they march to Revolution Square in Havana
Students of Havana University pay tribute to Cuba's late President Fidel Castro as they march to Revolution Square in Havana

Leo Varadkar has said he takes a "more nuanced" position on former Cuban leader Fidel Castro than the President.

The Social Protection Minister said Castro imprisoned opponents in mental institutions and has a "mixed legacy at best".

He also said that nobody in Cuba ever voted for him.

His comments are in contrast to those of Michael D Higgins, who said Castro was a "giant among global leaders".

Speaking to reporters in Dublin, Mr Varadkar said the President was entitled to express his views but that he takes a "more nuanced" position on Castro.

Criticising

"There is a long-standing tradition of government ministers not to criticise the President because he is above politics and the President not to criticise the Government for exactly the same reason," said Mr Varadkar.

"So I'm not going to get into that space.

"Castro certainly stood up to American aggression and made some changes in his country that were significant, particularly around access to education and healthcare .

"But he was an unelected dictator. Nobody in Cuba ever voted for him. He executed and imprisoned his opponents and even put people in mental institutions for disagreeing with him. So it's a mixed legacy at best."

In his official statement, President Higgins sparked controversy by praising Castro's achievements on education and healthcare, and noting the damage done to Cuba by an unjust and prolonged US economic embargo.

The statement especially enraged many observers because the President's only reference to Castro's infamous regime of repression, including summary executions, was to note that economic and social reforms were "at the price of a restriction of civil society".

President Higgins concluded that Castro was "a giant among global leaders" who sought freedom for his own people and oppressed people across the world.

Speaking in Rome, Taoiseach Enda Kenny gave a cautious response when asked about President Higgins' statement.

He said the President "is entitled to make his comments" but did not offer any view of his own on Castro's passing.

Ireland's Ambassador to Mexico, Sonja Hyland, will represent the Government at Castro's funeral in Havana on Sunday.

"Most countries will be represented by an ambassador, some may send other representatives," said Mr Kenny. "So in that case, Ambassador Hyland will represent us."

Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath strongly criticised the President's remarks. "I believe that in this instance, he ought to have limited himself to expressions of personal regret after the death of Castro.

Mourning

"To offer his sympathies on behalf of all Irish people, many of whom are deeply aware of the vicious nature of the Castro regime, was an act of extraordinary hubris and political arrogance."

Meanwhile, it emerged last night that no Irish minister will attend Castro's funeral.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, who will be there, told RTE's Today with Sean O'Rourke programme that the President's remarks were "appropriate".

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