Fidel Castro: Brutal dictator or people's champion?


A host of world leaders and British political figures have spoken out after the death of Cuba's former president Fidel Castro.

Castro led a rebel army to victory to become one of the world's longest serving leaders.

His death prompted contrasting reactions from political figures around the world, with some praising him as a "people's champion" while others described him as a "brutal dictator".

Firebrand politician George Galloway said "Fidel Castro lives on in all of us", hailing him as "one of the greatest human beings who ever lived".

However, US President-elect Donald Trump described Castro as a "brutal dictator".

Trump laid into the revolutionary's record on human rights and pledged to help Cubans "finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty" after he takes over the world's most powerful post in January.

His statement, which pulled no punches, contrasted with the more measured words of President Barack Obama.

Trump said: "Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades.

"Fidel Castro's legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.

"While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve."

The White House issued a statement from Obama, which offered "condolences to Fidel Castro's family" while at the same time saying "our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people". Obama had attempted rapprochement with the Caribbean state in recent years after decades of trade bans and near all-out-war.

The US president said: "At this time of Fidel Castro's passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people.

"We know that this moment fills Cubans - in Cuba and in the United States - with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation.

"History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him."

One of the defining leaders of the 20th century, Fidel Castro was seen as both pariah and people's champion.

Speaking in Oxford, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn praised the Cuban revolutionary leader's "heroism" and said: "Fidel Castro was a massive figure in the history of the whole planet."

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Castro was a "historic if controversial figure" and his death marked "the end of an era for Cuba and the start of a new one for Cuba's people".

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone said the former Cuban leader was an "absolute giant of the 20th century", and blamed the US for the restrictions on civil liberties under his leadership.

He admitted "of course Fidel did things that were wrong", adding: "Initially he wasn't very good on lesbian and gay rights, but the key things that mattered was that people had a good education, good healthcare and wealth was evenly distributed."

Fidel Castro
(Paul Faith/PA)

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau paid tribute to Castro, who was a friend of his father, with "deep sorrow".

He said: "Fidel Castro was a larger-than-life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.

"While a controversial figure, both Mr Castro's supporters and detractors recognised his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for 'el Comandante'."

Fidel Castro.
(Alex Castro/AP)

Irish president Michael D Higgins was among a host of world leaders who also paid tribute, saying Castro guided Cuba "through a remarkable process of social and political change, advocating a development path that was unique and determinedly independent".

He added: "Fidel Castro will 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."

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: "There is no doubt that Fidel Castro was a vastly significant 20th century leader, but even as we respectfully acknowledge this on his passing, we must not overlook the appalling human rights abuses including brutal summary executions for which he was responsible."