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After praising Fidel Castro, Michael D Higgins becomes first Irish statesman to visit Cuba today

The president was criticised for his tribute in praise of Fidel Castro when he died aged 90 last November.

90438225_90438225 Michael D Higgins Source: RollingNews.ie

IRISH PRESIDENT MICHAEL D Higgins will today become the first Irish head of state to visit reclusive Communist state Cuba.

The president has been on the road for eight days now having taken in Peru and Colombia in South America prior to the Cuban state visit.

The visit is at the invitation of Cuban president Raul Castro, brother of long-time leader Fidel who died aged 90 last November.

The Irish president received a deal of criticism after paying tribute to Castro in the wake of his death.

In a statement at the time, President Higgins said he learned of Castro’s death with “great sadness”.

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.

Higgins’ statement said 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”.

However, it noted: “The economic and social reforms introduced were at the price of a restriction of civil society, which brought its critics.”

Renua leader John Leahy and Fianna Fáil education spokesman Thomas Byrne were among those to criticise Higgins’ lauding of a regime “which murdered thousands of people”, in Leahy’s words.

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Higgins’ visit will begin with a wreath-laying at a monument dedicated to Cuban poet and independence fighter José Marti at Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución.

He will go on to meet with President Castro to “discuss bilateral relations between the two countries, as well as issues relating to regional cooperation in Europe and Latin America”.

The president’s tour has already made history in a couple of ways – Higgins has been the first Irish head of state to be awarded with Peru’s highest honour and, in Colombia, he became the first head of any foreign state to visit a fully demobilised FARC camp.

The Cuban leg of the extended tour will be the last, with President Higgins returning to Dublin next Sunday.

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