A prominent DUP MP has hit out at Sinn Fein for lavishing praise on Fidel Castro, following the former Cuban leader’s death at the age of 90.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) was reacting to a speech delivered by Gerry Adams on a west Belfast street at the weekend, in which he said Castro had “led the people of Cuba to freedom”.
Mr Adams also noted that Castro had praised the hunger strikers during the 1980s, and said that whilst there were problems with the Cuban regime, “all societies have their faults”.
Sammy Wilson said: “It wouldn’t surprise me that one terrorist would praise another terrorist. Of course, that’s what Castro was.
“He terrorised his own country for many, many years, to the point that masses of his own citizens risked the sea journey in rickety boats and all other kinds of craft to escape Cuba [and] reach Miami.”
He went on to add that Castro’s actions during the 1960s brought the world to the brink of a “nuclear holocaust”.
He noted that Sinn Fein “continually complain about human rights abuses”, but that it was still not surprising they would “so easily gloss over the human rights abuses which Castro visited upon his own population for decades – it wasn’t a one-off thing, it was decades of abuse”.
Castro had been unwell for some time.
Having come to power in a revolution in the late 1950s when he overthrew right-wing dictator Fulgencio Batista, he handed control to his brother Raul in 2008.
Cuba’s medical and educational system have often won praise; the country is currently ranked 67 in the UN’s Human Development Index (which measures things like life expectancy and literacy) – putting it above Turkey, Mexico and Brazil.
However, domestic repression of its roughly 11 million-strong population has drawn strong criticism.
In 2009, shortly after the handover of power, the group Human Rights Watch released a report entitled: “New Castro, Same Cuba”.
It said that Raul had “inherited a system of abusive laws and institutions, as well as responsibility for hundreds of political prisoners arrested during his brother’s rule”.
It noted that Fidel had “repressed virtually all forms of dissent”, adding: “His government used a wide range of abusive tactics to enforce political conformity, including long-term imprisonment, beatings, threats, and surveillance.”
Such tactics continued well past the turn of the millennium.
Mr Wilson also attacked not just Cuba’s domestic policies, but Castro’s role in the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the USA and Russia almost went to war over the fact Russian nuclear missiles were being installed on the Caribbean island.
“Don’t forget,” said Mr Wilson.
“He [Castro] almost brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war in the 1960s when he invited the Russians to set up missile bases which were within striking distance of the US...
“He had total disregard, not only for his own people, but he’d total disregard for people across the world – because of course the nuclear holocaust that could have been unleashed by his actions would have resulted in tens of millions of people losing their lives.”
He added that he would “not rejoice in anybody’s death”.
He also noted that Castro’s US-based sister Juanita is reported as saying she will not attend his funeral.
“I think that that says it all,” said Mr Wilson.
The Irish president Michael D Higgins had come under fire from some political rivals for issuing a statement about Castro in which the dead Cuban leader was heavily praised.
Mr Wilson said: “I suppose maybe he has been more diplomatic than I [was] because of the position he holds. I don’t know. I don’t know whether it’s diplomacy or whether it’s genuine [and] heartfelt what he said.
“I suspect there’s an element of diplomacy there. But I think that people in public life are much better to speak the truth on these matters, and if somebody has been a reprobate, then call them a reprobate.”
On Sunday, the Irish Independent newspaper quoted an unnamed spokesman for the president as saying: “The president’s statement clearly referred to the price paid for social and economic development in terms of civil society and the criticisms it brought...
“Any suggestion that the president neglected human rights concerns is both unsustainable and unwarranted.”