Obama urged not to send representative to Castro funeral

Ted Cruz among Republican critics, referring to Cuban leader as ‘murderous tyrant’

 

Republican opponents of president Barack Obama’s historic rapprochement with Cuba have urged the US administration not to send any representatives to the funeral of revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.

Mr Castro died on Friday night at the age of 90. Supporters of the next US president Donald Trump want him to use the former Cuban leader’s death as an opportunity to push the Communist island to embrace democracy.

Flags are flying at half-mast across Cuba as the country observes nine days of mourning. Hundreds of thousands are expected to pay their respects to the deceased leader of Cuba’s 1959 revolution – who led the country for almost a half-century – at a mass public ceremony in Havana’s Revolution Plaza on Tuesday.

Representatives of foreign governments are expected to gather in Cuba that day, though memorial events will take place throughout the week in the Caribbean state culminating with Castro’s interment on Sunday.

Government sources on Sunday night said that no Minister was likely to travel for the funeral, but that Ireland would be represented by the Ambassador to Mexico, Sonja Hyland, who is also accredited to Cuba.

President Michael D Higgins has no plans to travel to Havana this week, his spokesman confirmed.

Criticism

The President faced criticism over the weekend for his tribute to the Cuban leader in the wake of his death, which was seen by some as glossing over the human rights abuses of his regime.

Mr Higgins is due to visit Cuba in February.

In the US, Texas senator Ted Cruz, runner-up to Mr Trump in the Republican presidential race, said on Sunday that Mr Obama and fellow Democrats should not “lionise a murderous tyrant and thug” by attending his funeral.

“If you wouldn’t go to Pol Pot’s funeral or Stalin’s funeral or Mao’s funeral because they were murderous communist dictators, then you shouldn’t be doing what Barack Obama and [Canadian prime minister] Justin Trudeau are doing, which is celebrating Fidel Castro, a murderous communist dictator,” said the Cuban-American senator, a vociferous critic of Mr Obama’s landmark 2014 detente with Havana.

Florida senator Marco Rubio, also a presidential contender of Cuban parentage, urged president-elect Trump to tie any changes in relations with Cuba to reforms such as free elections and a free press.

“I’m just against unilateral changes for which we get nothing in return for our country or on behalf of the Cuban people,” he said.

Mr Rubio said that nothing had changed in Cuba following Fidel’s death since his younger brother, Raul Castro (85), has for the past decade been in charge of protecting the communist regime largely created by his brother.

Mr Trump has vowed to renegotiate diplomatic and economic relations with Havana, re-established by president Obama after more than 50 years of Cold War-era tensions, on better terms for the US.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams will travel to Havana on Monday. In a blog post, Mr Adams described Mr Castro as “one of the great revolutionary leaders – a hero and friend of Ireland” and recalled meeting him in Cuba.