Surviving Communists and Autocrats Mourn Castro

By Patrick Goodenough | November 28, 2016 | 4:37am EST
Fidel Castro addresses the General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York in 1979. (UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata, File)

( – From Pyongyang to Beijing, Vientiane to Hanoi, the leaders of the world’s surviving ruling communist parties showered praise on Fidel Castro over the weekend, recalling with fondness a “comrade” who clung to his ideology long after its ignominious failure across much of the world.

They were joined in mourning by the leaders of other repressive regimes, while several democratic leaders also raised eyebrows by extolling Castro – who died Friday aged 90 – but saying nothing about the human rights violations associated with his rule.

For North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Castro “established the socialist system where the people became the genuine masters for the first time in the Western Hemisphere.”

Castro’s “precious feats,” Kim said, would “remain forever in the hearts of the peoples of our two countries and the hearts of progressive mankind.”

In Beijing, President Xi Jinping mourned the loss of “the great Comrade Fidel Castro,” and said that his “glorious image and great achievements will go down in history.”

The official state Xinhua news agency praised a leader who it said had “resisted the American superpower for half a century,” while the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated Global Times scolded some Chinese citizens for criticizing Castro in social media posts. Those critics, it said, “have a poor sense of history and low levels of knowledge.”

Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party said it was “deeply mournful and moved” to learn of Castro’s death.

“We believe that in this sorrowful moment, the Cuban communists and people will continue to unite under the leadership of the glorious Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee,” it said.

And in neighboring Laos, the last of the dwindling number of communist-ruled nations, the sentiment was shared. “Deepest condolences and sympathy” at the loss of “Comrade Fidel Castro Ruz” was sent to President Raul Castro, and to the party, government and “fraternal” Cuban people.

Beyond the communist-ruled remnant, Castro is also being remembered warmly by other autocratic and repressive leaders, who view him as having championed the developing world’s pushback against Western “imperialism.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Castro’s name “will live forever in the minds of generations and remain an inspiration for all the peoples who aspire to achieve real independence and liberation from the yoke of colonialism and hegemony.”

Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro, right, shakes hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, center, in Havana, Cuba, Monday, Sept 19, 2016. Rouhani is on a one-day official visit to Cuba. (AP Photo/Alex Castro)

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani eulogized Castro as an example of “free men and warriors who do not give up fighting until the last days of their lives in order to keep the flag of justice- and freedom-seeking waving in the hearts of people.”

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte – who in just five months in office has sought to realign his country with Russia and China and against its longstanding U.S. ally – said Castro had made his mark by “standing up against the West and imperialism.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin called Castro a “strong and wise person” and “a sincere and reliable friend of Russia.”

Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas ordered flags to be flown at half-staff to mourn Castro, noting that his regime had embraced the Palestine Liberation Organization soon after its establishment in 1964 and severed ties with Israel in 1973.

At the United Nations, the Castro regime has long served as a catalyst for anti-Western initiatives and resolutions, playing an outsized role as a leader in the Non-Aligned Movement and as an activist member of the U.N. Human Rights Council and its predecessor, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described Castro as “a strong voice for social justice in global discussions at the U.N. General Assembly and international and regional forums.”

But in a statement released through his spokesman, Ban also expressed the hope that “Cuba will continue to advance on a path of reform, greater prosperity and human rights.”

‘While a controversial figure …’

Even such cautious references to reform and human rights were absent in written reactions to Castro’s death from some democratic leaders, including President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his country “mourns the loss of a great friend” while Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto also called Castro a friend of his country who promoted “bilateral relations based on respect, dialogue and solidarity.”

Few reactions drew as much criticism as that of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who briefly conceded that Castro was a “controversial figure,” but otherwise had only praise to offer.

“It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President. Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century,” he said in a statement. “A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.”

“While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for ‘el Comandante,’” Trudeau said.

The statement brought sharp criticism – and give birth to a series of mocking posts on Twitter, as critics using hashtags such as #Trudeaueulogies suggested similar responses to the deaths of other “controversial figures.”

“While a controversial figure, Adolf Eichmann made the trains run on time, helping millions to their final destination,” tweeted one. Another commented, “While a controversial figure, General Tojo brought America into World War II and ultimately helped shorten the war.”

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