Statement by President Michael D. Higgins on the death of Fidel Castro
"I have learned with great sadness of the death of Fidel Castro, founder of modern Cuba, and its Prime Minister from 1959 to 1976, as well as its President from 1976 to 2008.
Following the revolution in 1959, Fidel Castro brought significant political and social change to his country, overcoming not just the regime of General Fulgencio Batista but also the economic isolation forced upon Cuba in the years that followed.
Having survived some 600 attempts on his life, Fidel Castro, known to his peers in Cuba as ‘El Comandante’, became one of the longest serving Heads of State in the world, guiding the country through a remarkable process of social and political change, advocating a development path that was unique and determinedly independent.
Cuba achieved 100% literacy many years ago and built up a health system that is one the most admired in the world. With economic growth rates similar to many other Latin American countries, inequality and poverty are much less pronounced in Cuba than in surrounding nations.
His Governments faced not only issues of Development but also the consequences of an embargo imposed by Cuba’s largest neighbour, the United States, which was a regular topic for discussion at the United Nations and which was criticised by a large number of countries in the international community.
The economic and social reforms introduced were at the price of a restriction of civil society, which brought its critics.
Fidel Castro was of a generation of leaders that sought to offer an alternative global economic and social order. He was President of the Non Aligned Movement and a leading figure in international gatherings that sought a more equal world of trade, rejected odious debt and sought an independent path to development.
He advanced such ideas, for example, at such events as the Tri Continental Conference in 1966. And he would continue with this theme which informed his speech, for example, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio in 1992. He was speaking of how it was possible to eliminate global hunger and of the enormous burden that international debt was placing on impoverished nations. Expected to give a lengthy speech, his very short statement ended with the phrase: ‘Let us pay the debt to humanity, not the debt to the banks.’
The restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States in 2014 and the visit of Pope Francis, and the response to it, have been ushering in a new period in Cuba’s history, one which seeks to retain the achievements of a social kind with greater freedoms in the civil society.
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.”