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President Michael D. Higgins signing the book of condolences for late Cuban leader Fidel Castro this morning.
Cold War

'Con la simpatico': President Higgins is first to sign book of condolences for Castro

The president drew criticism for his comments on the death of the Communist leader.

Updated 16.45

PRESIDENT MICHAEL D. Higgins signed the book of condolences for former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro this morning.

Castro’s passing was announced by his brother Raul – his successor as Cuban president – on Saturday.

President Higgins signed the book of condolences at the Cuban Embassy on Pearse Street at 9am this morning.

His message read:

On behalf of the people of Ireland to express their sympathy to the people of Cuba on the passing of former head of state Fidel Castro Ruz.
Con la simpatico de la gente (with the sympathy of the people).

At a short news conference, Cuban ambassdor to Ireland Dr Hermes Herrera said he was not surprised at the reaction to President Higgins’ statement upon Castro’s death. He added that the Irish president’s expression of condolences was “an honour”.

Higgins has been criticised by Senator Rónán Mullen and Fine Gael TD Noel Rock for his effusive tribute to the late Cuban leader, whom he called one of the “longest-serving heads of state in the world”.

Higgins’s tribute to Castro was retweeted by the Cuban ambassador in the US, who said the Irish president was leading international tributes.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams will travel to Cuba to attend the funeral of Castro, who won plaudits from revolutionary movements across the world for vocally opposing its huge neighbour the United States.

Speaking on Today with Séan O’Rourke this morning, Adams said: “He spoke out on behalf of the hunger strikers in 1981, more than any Taoiseach ever did.

“I think the President’s remarks were appropriate.”

Throngs are set to pay tribute to Fidel Castro at Havana’s iconic Revolution Square today, kicking off a week-long farewell to Cuba’s divisive Cold War titan.

After a subdued weekend following his death on Friday, hundreds of thousands are expected to flock to the plaza where Castro would often rail against the US “yankees” and “empire” during his marathon speeches.


“You’ll see how the people of Cuba really are. You’ll see how they are suffering, how they feel about a person they love,” said Jorge Guilarte, a 50-year-old bike-taxi driver.

Castro, whose 1959 revolution toppled a dictatorship with the promise of bringing justice and equality to his Caribbean island, was a major 20th century figure.

While some saw him as a socialist hero who brought education and free health care to this country, others labeled him a “dictator” who caused economic hardship and sparked an exodus of Cubans to Florida seeking a better life.

In a sign of changing times, US President Barack Obama visited the plaza during his historic visit to Havana in March, when he became the first US leader since 1928 to step foot in Cuba. In a statement on Saturday, Obama offered condolences to Castro’s family.

In 2014, Fidel’s brother and successor, Raul Castro, announced a diplomatic detente with Obama, who has lifted some trade barriers. On Monday, the first regular flights from the United States to the Cuban capital will resume.

Raul Castro has enacted modest, slow reforms that have slightly opened up the economy. Government opponents hope that Fidel’s death will prompt him to launch bolder changes.

Fidel handed power to Raul Castro in 2006 after undergoing emergency intestinal surgery. His cause of death on Friday at age 90 has not been disclosed.

Adams meets Fidel Castro Gerry Adams with Castro in 2001. PA Archive / PA Images PA Archive / PA Images / PA Images


At the Revolution Square, famous for a government building adorned with the face of Argentine-born guerrilla Ernesto “Che” Guevara, organisers installed a giant photo at the National Library of the Fidel Castro carrying a rifle during the revolution that brought him to power.

Officials have yet to confirm whether an urn carrying his ashes will be placed on a platform so that Cubans can file in front of his remains.

“Fidel is the people. Everybody loves him here. I’m expecting the plaza to overflow with people, like when he would come to meet the people,” said Ernestina Suarez, a 67-year-old housewife.

Saying goodbye to Fidel will be beautiful.

Dissidents who were repressed by his regime for years said they were happy that the “dictator” had died, but they called off regular demonstrations on Sunday out of deference to those in mourning.

“We are not happy about the death of a man, a human being. We are happy about the death of dictators,” Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, told AFP.

In Miami, where so many flocked in the past decades, Cuban-Americans celebrated the death of the man they called a “tyrant” with street parties throughout the weekend

After two days of commemorations in the capital, Castro’s ashes will go on a four-day island-wide procession starting on Wednesday before being buried in the southeastern city of Santiago de Cuba on 4 December.

Fidel Castro Prime Minister Smoking Cigar News Conference Close Up Castro in 1959. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Bay of Pigs

Santiago, Cuba’s second city, was the scene of Castro’s ill-fated first attempt at revolution in 1953 – six years before he succeeded in ousting the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Fidel Castro, who came to power as a bearded, cigar-chomping 32-year-old, adopted the slogan “socialism or death” and kept his faith to the end.

He survived more than 600 assassination attempts, according to aides, as well as the failed 1961 US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion.

His outrage over that botched invasion contributed to the Cuban missile crisis the following year, when the world stood on the brink of nuclear war.

The USSR bankrolled Castro’s regime until 1989, when the Soviet bloc’s collapse sent Cuba’s economy into free-fall.

Daniel Martinez, a 33-year-old cook, is not a fan of the regime but was not thrilled with the celebrations in Miami.

“I have nothing personal against Fidel, but I am not a ‘Castrista.’

I don’t consider myself a dissident. I simply don’t like this system, neither with Fidel nor with Raul.

“Nothing changes here. Nothing moves.”

With reporting from AFP. - © AFP, 2016

Read: President Higgins expresses his “great sadness” upon hearing of Fidel Castro’s death

Read: Fidel Castro has died at the age of 90

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