Demola Ojo with agency reports
Numerous world leaders yesterday paid tribute to Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary leader who built a communist state on the doorstep of the United States. The former Cuban president died on Friday aged 90.
Castro came to power in 1959 aged 32, and spent 49 years as Cuban president, a record for a non-royal leader. During this period, he reportedly survived 638 assassination attempts.
African leaders especially –and world leaders in general – have eulogized Castro, who is remembered as a friend, ally and, in some places, a saviour. However US President-elect Donald Trump was one of very few influential figures that called out the former Cuban leader, calling him a brutal dictator.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said he received with profound sadness news of Castro’s death and offered condolences to Cuban President Raul Castro and the people of Cuba, assuring them of the sympathy and solidarity of all Nigerians.
President Buhari hailed “the remarkable leader who against all odds stirred uncommon development in sports, education and healthcare sectors of his nation, to the benefit of other nations.”
The Nigerian President said he was delighted that Fidel Castro lived to see improved ties with the United States.
“As a great friend to Africa, countries in the Global South and the Non-Aligned Movement, Castro’s place in history is assured, given his sustained successful commitment and towering role in the liberation and anti-colonialism struggles in Africa,” Buhari said.
South African President Jacob Zuma had warm words, thanking the Cuban leader for his help and support in the struggle to overthrow apartheid.
“President Castro identified with our struggle against apartheid. He inspired the Cuban people to join us in our own struggle against apartheid,” Zuma said in a statement.
Veteran Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, whose son born in 1973 was named Fidel Castro Odhiambo Odinga in honor of the Cuban leader, said, “In many ways, Castro was a great friend and true friend of Africa and other parts of the world that had to fight long and bitter wars to attain freedom from colonialism.
“Castro stood very firmly on the side of Africans who were fighting for the continent’s liberation from colonialism especially in Congo (now DRC), Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa.
“In the case of Apartheid South Africa, Castro was one of the very few voices to speak against that system that was founded on a false sense of racial superiority with dire economic consequences for black people.”
Cuba under Castro fiercely opposed South Africa’s apartheid regime and its western backers, and supported the African National Congress, the most prominent party in the nation’s liberation struggle.
Nelson Mandela, the ANC leader and first president of post-apartheid South Africa, was a deep admirer. “Comrade Castro’s leadership remains an inspiration to revolutionary movements committed to social justice worldwide,” the ANC said yesterday.
However, American President-elect Donald 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.”
His Vice President-elect Mike Pence towed the same line and on Twitter said: “The tyrant Castro is dead. New hope dawns. We will stand with the oppressed Cuban people for a free and democratic Cuba. Viva Cuba Libre!”
Trump’s stance, was at variance with the general reaction; some described Castro in glowing terms, while others were more tempered. None though, was as overtly critical as the incoming American President.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union which had long acted as an economic and political prop for Cuba, said Castro left a lasting mark on his country and on world history.
“Fidel held his ground and strengthened his country at the time of the harshest American blockade, at the time of massive pressure on him,” Gorbachev was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying. “Nevertheless he led out his country from the blockade to the path of self-sustained and independent development.”
US President Barack Obama offered his condolences to Fidel Castro’s family and added that history would judge Castro’s impact on Cuba and around the world.
“At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” Obama said. “History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.”
Russian President, Vladimir Putin said of Castro; “The free and independent Cuba, built by him and his comrades, has become an influential member of international society and served as an inspiring example for many countries and people. Fidel Castro was a frank and tried and true friend of Russia.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping said that the Chinese people have lost a close comrade and a sincere friend. Xi hailed Castro for his contribution to the development of communism both in Cuba and around the world.
French President Francois Hollande mourned the loss of a major figure on the world stage. “Fidel Castro was a towering figure of the 20th century. He incarnated the Cuban revolution, in both its hopes and subsequent disillusionments,” Hollande said in a statement.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged advances in education, literary and health under Castro, but said he hoped Cuba would “continue to advance on a path of reform, greater prosperity and human rights”.
Pope Francis, who met Castro, an atheist, when he visited Cuba in 2015, called his death “sad news”.
UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said; “Fidel Castro’s death marks the end of an era for Cuba and the start of a new one for Cuba’s people. Castro’s leadership of the 1959 Cuban Revolution marked him out as an historic if controversial figure. The UK will continue to work with the government of Cuba on a wide range of foreign policy priorities, including on human rights.”
Also, in a measured statement, Spain’s foreign ministry said: “A figure of great historic importance has gone, a man who brought about a turning point in the country’s evolution and whose great influence was felt across the region. As the son of Spanish parents, former President Castro always maintained strong links with Spain and was bound by ties of blood and culture.”
In Venezuela, a long-time ally of Cuba and staunch opponent of the political stance of the United States, President Nicolas Maduro said Castro had inspired and would continue to inspire his country.
“We will keep on winning and keep fighting. Fidel Castro is an example of the fight for all the people of the world. We will go forward with his legacy,” Maduro told television station Telesur by telephone.
In Bolivia, where Ernesto “Che” Guevara died in 1967 in a failed bid to export Cuba’s revolution, President Evo Morales said in a statement: “Fidel Castro left us a legacy of having fought for the integration of the world’s peoples … The departure of Comandante Fidel Castro really hurts.”
In a statement, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “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 recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for “el Comandante.”
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said, “Cuba, our friend, managed under his leadership to withstand the strongest sanctions and oppressive campaigns witnessed in our recent history, becoming a beacon of liberation for the people of South America, and the people of the entire world. Fidel Castro’s name will live forever in the minds of generations and will inspire those aspiring to true independence and liberation from the yoke of colonialism and hegemony.”
The leaders of Italy, Lebanon, Ecuador, Vietnam and many more also paid tribute to Castro.
Long Reign, Divided Opinions
Born Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz on August 13, 1926, he was the son of a wealthy farmer, Angel María Bautista Castro y Argiz, who had emigrated to Cuba from Spain and Lina Ruz González, a farm servant who became his father’s mistress, and later, after Fidel’s birth, his wife.
During his reign which started in 1959, Castro held on to power longer than any other living national leader except Queen Elizabeth II. He became a towering international figure whose importance in the 20th century far exceeded what might have been expected from the head of state of a Caribbean island nation of 11 million people.
Castro controlled most aspects of the island’s existence. From atop a Cuban Army tank, he directed his country’s defense at the Bay of Pigs. Countless details fell to him, from selecting the color of uniforms that Cuban soldiers wore in Angola to overseeing a program to produce a superbreed of milk cows. He personally set the goals for sugar harvests. He personally sent countless men to prison.
He had both admirers and detractors in Cuba and around the world. Some saw him as a ruthless despot who trampled rights and freedoms; many others hailed him as a revolutionary hero for the ages.
His legacy in Cuba and elsewhere has been a mixed record of social progress and abject poverty, of racial equality and political persecution, of medical advances and a degree of misery comparable to the conditions that existed in Cuba when he entered Havana as a victorious guerrilla commander in 1959.
But beyond anything else, it was Castro’s obsession with the United States, and America’s obsession with him, that shaped his rule. After he embraced Communism, Washington portrayed him as a devil and a tyrant and repeatedly tried to remove him from power through an ill-fated invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, an economic embargo that has lasted decades and over 600 assassination plots.
Castro’s defiance of American power made him a beacon of resistance in Latin America and elsewhere, and his bushy beard, long Cuban cigar and green fatigues became universal symbols of rebellion.
The US cut ties with Cuba in 1961 amid rising Cold War tensions and imposed a strict economic embargo which remains in place more than half a century on.
Under Barack Obama, the US-Cuba relationship warmed and diplomatic ties were restored in 2015 after decades of tension. Trump roundly criticised the policy on the campaign trail but made no mention of his pledge to reverse it in his statement.
Throughout the Cold War, Fidel Castro was a thorn in Washington’s side. An accomplished tactician on the battlefield, he and his small army of guerrillas overthrew the military leader Fulgencio Batista in 1959 to widespread popular support.
Within two years of taking power, he declared the revolution to be Marxist-Leninist in nature and allied the island nation firmly to the Soviet Union.
Despite the constant threat of a US invasion as well as the long-standing economic embargo on the island, Castro managed to maintain a communist revolution in a nation just 90 miles (145km) off the coast of Florida.
Despised by his critics as much as he was revered by his followers, he maintained his rule through 10 US presidents and survived scores of attempts on his life by the CIA.
He has been cremated and a period of official mourning has been declared on the island until December 4, when his ashes will be laid to rest in the south-eastern city of Santiago.
• Born 1926 in the south-eastern Oriente Province of Cuba
• Imprisoned in 1953 after leading an unsuccessful rising against Batista’s regime
• Released 1955 from prison under an amnesty deal
• In 1956 Begins, along with Che Guevara, a guerrilla war against the government
• Defeats Batista in 1959, sworn in as prime minister of Cuba
• Fights off CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban exiles in 1961
• Sparks Cuban missile crisis by agreeing that USSR can deploy nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962
• Elected president by Cuba’s National Assembly in 1976
• Reaches an agreement with US over Cuban refugees in 1992
• Hands over reins to brother Raul due to health issues in 2006, stands down as president in 2008