UN Honors Fidel Castro With ‘Minute of Silence’
The President of the United Nations General Assembly and ambassadors from around the world stood for a “minute of silence” earlier this week to honor the deceased Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
Peter Thomson of Fiji called for the minute of silence Tuesday, beginning the session with what Thomson called his “sad duty to pay tribute to the memory” of the former Cuban president:
“I’m deeply saddened by the passing of Fidel Castro … [O]ne of the iconic leaders of the 20th century, with a great love for his homeland and the Cuban people, he dedicated his life to their welfare and development. A tireless advocate for equity in the international arena, he was an inspirational figure for developing countries in particular. His dedication to their advancement, especially in the fields of education and health, will long be remembered.
Thomson then invited the other representatives to stand with him in observation of the minute of silence.
Watch his comments in this clipped video from MRCTV:
A Legacy of Tyranny
Nearly a week has passed since Castro died at age 90. Even as Cuban exiles in Miami celebrated his death and the end of his tyrannical reign over Cuba, numerous world leaders lauded him — largely ignoring the countless atrocities committed against Cubans during his near half-century in power.
Perhaps most notable was Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement expressing “deep sorrow” over Castro’s death and describing him as a “larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century.” An international backlash against those comments led Trudeau to acknowledge Castro as “a polarizing figure” whose leadership led to “significant concerns around human rights.”
Those familiar with Castro’s autocratic 50-year regime were less sanguine. Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and veteran international correspondent, wrote last week that over 8,000 political arrests were made during the first eight months of 2016, and over 50,000 Cubans fled to the United States last year. While the number of exiles has recently increased, Cubans have been fleeing to America’s shores for years, braving shark-infested waters and sometimes dying along the way.
In a Miami Herald piece published in response to Castro’s death, Armando Salguero, a Cuban immigrant, details the harrowing story of his family’s escape from Castro’s rule, which resulted in a three-year separation from his father. They were eventually reunited.
Stream Senior Editor John Zmirack told the story of his high school best friend, a Cuban exile, whose father had been tortured in prison camps under Castro’s rule and who said the only reason Cuba so heavily emphasized literacy — a point many world leaders have praised — was because “They wanted everyone to be able to read their propaganda … so there was no excuse for disobedience.”
And another Cuban-American, Ana Quintana, recalled this week her grandfather’s stories of life under Castro:
Religion was criminalized, dissent was violently punished, and Cuban citizens became property of their communist state. Fidel’s rule brought the world to its closest point of nuclear war during those fateful 13 days in 1962. He indoctrinated hate and pushed millions out of their country.
World Leaders’ Reactions to Castro’s Death
After Castro’s death, President Barack Obama said that “History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.”
British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn acknowledged Castro’s “flaws” but also called him a “champion of social justice.”
In a telegram to Raul Castro, Castor’s younger brother, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “Free and independent Cuba, which he (Fidel Castro) and his allies built, became an influential member of the international community and became an inspiring example for many countries and nations. Fidel Castro was a sincere and reliable friend of Russia.”
The Associated Press reported statements from other world leaders after Castro’s passing. Like those issued by Trudeau, Putin and Corbyn, the statements mostly consisted of praise for the dictator:
Salvador Sanchez Ceren, the president of El Salvador, said he felt “deep sorrow … of my friend and eternal companion, Commander Fidel Castro Ruz.”
Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted that “Fidel Castro was a friend of Mexico, promoting bilateral relations based on respect, dialogue and solidarity.”
“India mourns the loss of a great friend,” Indian Prime Minister Nerendra Modi said on Twitter.
The country’s president, Pranab Mukherjee tweeted: “Heartfelt condolences on sad demise of Cuba’s revolutionary leader, former president & friend of India, Fidel Castro.”
Peter Hain, a former member of the British Cabinet and anti-apartheid campaigner, tempered praise for Castro with criticism of some aspects of his long rule.
“Although responsible for indefensible human rights and free-speech abuses, Castro created a society of unparalleled access to free health, education and equal opportunity despite an economically throttling USA siege,” Hain said. “His troops inflicted the first defeat on South Africa’s troops in Angola in 1988, a vital turning point in the struggle against apartheid.”
A statement from the Spanish government hailed Castro as “a figure of enormous historical importance.”
“As a son of Spaniards, former president Castro always maintained close relations with Spain and showed great affection for his family and cultural ties. For this reason Spain especially shares the grief of Cuba’s government and authorities,” the government statement said.
“Fidel Castro in the 20th century did everything possible to destroy the colonial system, to establish cooperative relations,” former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was quoted as telling the Interfax news agency.
“Fidel survived and strengthened the country during the most severe U.S. blockade, while there was enormous pressure on him, and still led his country out of the blockade on the road of independent development.”
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro recalled Castro’s departure from Mexico on the yacht Granma with his brother Raul and several dozen supporters to start their revolution.
“Sixty years after the Granma sailed from Mexico, Fidel sails toward the immortality of all those who fight their whole lives,” Maduro tweeted. “Onward to victory, always!”
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, however, refused to sing Castro’s praises. Calling him a “brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades,” Trump said in a statement, “Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty, and the denial of fundamental human rights.”
Watch the full video of Peter Thomson’s comments and the moment of silence from UN Web TV here (Thomson’s statement and moment of silence are at very beginning).