Commission won't call Castro a dictator
By Eric Maurice
The European Commission maintained on Monday (28 November), that the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro was a "hero for many," suggesting that labelling him a dictator did not reflect the institution's view.
Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said that the EU executive chief Jean-Claude Juncker "opted for [a] balanced appreciation of the historical journey of Fidel Castro," after his death last Friday (25 November).
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In a statement on Saturday, roundly criticised on social media, Juncker said that Castro was "one of the historic figures of the past century" and that "the world has lost a man who was a hero for many."
"He changed the course of his country and his influence reached far beyond. Fidel Castro remains one of the revolutionary figures of the 20th century. His legacy will be judged by history," he added.
Asked at the commission daily press briefing why Juncker had used the word "hero", Schinas insisted that "it was not 'a hero' but 'a hero for many'."
He added that the statement was "quite similar to the one by US president Barack Obama," because it also said that history would judge the former leader.
Replying to a Czech correspondent who pointed out the number of people killed and imprisoned under Castro, or that he supported the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, the spokesman said that this was "a very long list of value judgements".
When you go into this territory, "you do it from a historic perspective, from a global perspective, not a very narrow view of reality as you just expressed it," Schinas told Czech public TV journalist Bohumil Vostal.
In a separate statement on Saturday, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, sent her "most heartfelt condolences" to current Cuban leader Raul Castro, brother of Fidel, saying Fidel was "a man of determination and a historical figure."
Both Juncker and Mogherini's statements appeared rather positive towards Castro, compared to a tweet posted by trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem.
"Fidel Castro was a dictator who oppressed his people for 50 years. Strange to hear all the tributes in the news today," she wrote, in contrast to her boss and colleague.
When asked whether the commission considered Castro as a dictator, spokesman Schinas on Monday said that "the commission's position was expressed" by Juncker and Mogherini's statements.
"Maybe there was no freedom of expression in Cuba but there is in the commission," he said, suggesting that Malmstroem's views and use of the word "dictator" were not the institution's position.
He defended the position expressed in the two official statements, saying their wording had been "very carefully chosen".