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World leaders face diplomatic dilemma over Castro funeral

© Yamil Lage, AFP | A guard of honour stands as workers fix the plaque with Cuban leader Fidel Castro's name onto the tomb containing his ashes at Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba on December 4, 2016.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-12-04

The ashes of Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro were interred Sunday at Santiago’s Santa Ifigenia cemetery in a private ceremony, with the list of officials in attendance reflecting the current state of geopolitics.

The invitation list for state funerals is a carefully choreographed affair and the decision to accept or decline is also extensively deliberated, with an eye to striking a balance between sending too strong a signal of support and avoiding offense.

This diplomatic dance was on full display during the final rites for Cuba’s longtime revolutionary leader Fidel Castro on Sunday, with all but Latin American nations sending decidedly mid-level delegations.

Nevertheless, the region's left wing turned out in force: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and former Brazilian president Luis Ignacio Lula Da Silva were among those sitting close to current President Raul Castro at a tribute on Saturday evening. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa spoke glowingly of the late Cuban leader, as did Bolivian leader Evo Morales.

Perhaps the most surprising absence was that of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the leader of a country whose ties to Havana were once so close that the United States and the Soviet Union were nearly drawn into nuclear war over the island nation. Instead, Russia sent a delegation headed by Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of the lower house of parliament.

Lukewarm allies

Nor did the leaders of Cuban allies China or Iran attend, opting to send deputies in their stead.

But apparently revolutionary ties bind tighter than geopolitical ones, because Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams arrived in Havana just days after Castro’s death. South African President Jacob Zuma, a onetime member of the Politburo of the South African Communist Party, also attended the weekend ceremonies.

Another dignitary with a Communist past, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, also went to Cuba to pay his respects. Ailing Zimbabwean president and onetime revolutionary Robert Mugabe made the trip as well.

Not surprisingly, attendance at Castro’s memorial was sparse on the other side of the Cold War divide. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose not to attend, despite Castro's presence at the funeral of his father, former premier Pierre Trudeau. Instead, Canada’s governor general was sent to represent Ottawa.

Neither British Prime Minister Teresa May nor Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson made an appearance, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also stayed at home. Spain sent a group headed by former King Juan Carlos while Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy took a pass.

And despite having done more to normalise relations with Cuba than any president in more than half a century, US President Barack Obama decided to skip the politically sensitive ceremonies and instead sent an informal delegation consisting of Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes and his choice for ambassador to Cuba, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who is still awaiting Senate confirmation before he officially takes up the post.

'Monument of history'

Ecology and Energy Minister Ségolène Royal represented France at the remembrances in Santiago, making news back at home by defending the late Cuban leader’s human rights record. The former Socialist presidential candidate called Castro a "monument of history" and the "symbol of a very deep friendship between Cuba and France".

"Thanks to Fidel Castro, Cubans reclaimed their territory, their lives, their destiny. They were inspired by the French Revolution without experiencing the terror that took place during the French Revolution," she said.

Asked about the human rights violations in Cuba that have been denounced by the United Nations as well as Cuban dissidents, Royal said that the island nation had both "religious freedom" and "freedom of conscience".

"There is a lot of disinformation," she said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2016-12-04

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