27 Nov 2016

Mixed reactions as world responds to Castro's death

11:07 am on 27 November 2016

As the world reacts to news of the death of Cuba's former leader, Fidel Castro, the country has declared a week of official mourning.

Flowers have been left outside the Cuban Embassy in Moscow after the death of Fidel Castro.

Flowers have been left outside the Cuban Embassy in Moscow after the death of Fidel Castro. Photo: AFP

His younger brother and successor Raul Castro, announced the death of the 90-year-old yesterday.

The revolutionary former Cuban leader's body will be cremated today. His funeral will be held in the southeastern city of Santiago de Cuba.

Many world leaders have paid tribute to the revolutionary leader who built a communist state on the doorstep of the United States.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union, said Mr Castro left a lasting mark on world history.

Indian Left Supporters peripatetic at the condoles rally of Fidel Castro. President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other Indian leaders expressed sympathy after Castro's death.

Indian left supporters at a rally after Castro's death. President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other Indian leaders expressed sympathy. Photo: AFP

Latin American leaders were also quick to pay tribute. In Venezuela, Cuba's main ally in the region, president Nicolas Maduro urged his country to continue Castro's legacy.

In Bolivia, where Ernesto "Che" Guevara died in 1967 in a failed bid to export Cuba's revolution, President Evo Morales said: "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."

Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto called Castro a friend of Mexico who promoted bilateral relationships based on "respect, dialogue and solidarity".

Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a statement 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.

Russian president Vladimir Putin described him as the "symbol of an era".

"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," the Kremlin said, citing Putin's condolences telegram to Raul Castro.

"Fidel Castro was a frank and tried and true friend of Russia. He has make a great contribution into establishing and developing of Russo-Cuban ties, close strategic co-operation in all the spheres,"

In South Africa, 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.

French President Francois Hollande mourned the loss of a major figure on the world stage and welcomed the rapprochement between Havana and Washington, while noting concerns over human rights under the Castro regime.

"Fidel Castro was a towering figure of the 20th century. He incarnated the Cuban revolution, in both its hopes and subsequent disillusionments," he said in a statement.

"France, which condemned human rights abuses in Cuba, had equally challenged the US embargo on Cuba, and France was glad to see the two countries re-establish dialogue and open ties between themselves," the Socialist party leader added.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged advances in education, literary and health under Mr 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 the death "sad news".

Cuba's tense relationship with US comes to fore

United States president Barack Obama offered a "hand of friendship" to Cubans.

People gather to pay respects outside the Cuban embassy in Santiago, Chile, after Fidel Castro's death.

People gather to pay respects outside the Cuban embassy in Santiago, Chile. Photo: AFP

Mr Obama said Mr Castro's death was an emotional moment for Cubans and Cuban-Americans because of the "countless ways" Castro "altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation".

He became the first US President to visit the island nation since 1928 this year, having agreed in December 2014 to re-establish diplomatic ties and end decades of hostility.

"At this time of Fidel Castro's passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people," Mr Obama said. "History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him."

He added that during his own presidency he had worked to "put the past behind us," while working on a future that was built on those things that were in common.

His successor, President-elect Donald Trump, was less even-handed. He gave his first reaction on Twitter, declaring "Fidel Castro is dead!".

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

"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."

Mr Trump threatened during his election campaign that concerns about religious freedom in Cuba could prompt him to reverse President Obama's moves to open relations with Cuba after more than a half-century's estrangement.

A flag flies low outside the Cuban Embassy in Moscow, Russia, after Fidel Castro's death.

A flag flies low outside the Cuban Embassy in Moscow, Russia, after Castro's death. Photo: AFP

A bloc of mostly Republican Cuban-American lawmakers has worked to keep tight restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba for years.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence said on Twitter that: "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!"

US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Cuban-American who ran against Mr Trump in the Republican presidential primaries, said Castro turned Cuba into "an impoverished island prison" where dissidents were routinely jailed and killed.

"The dictator has died, but the dictatorship has not," Rubio said today in a statement.

"The future of Cuba ultimately remains in the hands of the Cuban people, and now more than ever Congress and the new administration must stand with them against their brutal rulers and support their struggle for freedom and basic human rights."

Many Cubans now living in the United States were celebrating.

People take to the streets outside the restaurant Versailles in Miami, Florida, as they react to the news of the death of former Cuban President Fidel Castro.

People take to the streets outside the restaurant Versailles in Miami, Florida, as they react to the news of the death of former Cuban President Fidel Castro. Photo: AFP

In Little Havana in the southern city of Miami, where there is a large Cuban community, people took to the streets banging pots and cheering.

"You know what, I feel great, you know what I mean," said one man. "He's a murderer, he's a killer, he killed a lot of innocent people and I'm happy he died."

"Extremely happy," said another.

"Great way to end a year, with the death of Fidel Castro. Hopefully his brother and his other associates will be [also dead] soon."

- Reuters / BBC

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