Ken Livingstone has described Fidel Castro as an “absolute giant of the 20th century” and a “beacon of light” following his death.
Although the former mayor of London said the communist revolutionary “did things wrong”, he blamed US aggression towards the Cuban leader.
Castro was slammed by critics who claimed he ran an oppressive regime which abused human rights.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Livingstone described the country under Castro as a “beacon of light” for the people of Latin America.
He said: “If you had to live in any Latin American country, you would have chosen Cuba because your children would have had a good education, decent healthcare and everywhere else in Latin America, small, corrupt, elite dictatorships, it was a beacon of light, I think to people all over Latin America.”
When challenged by presenter Mishal Husain on Castro’s human rights record, Livingstone said: “Initially he wasn’t very good on lesbian and gay rights, but the key things that mattered was that people had a good education, good healthcare and wealth was evenly distributed.
“He was not living as a billionaire laundering money off into a Panamanian bank account or anything like that, he was good for the people.”
The Labour politician even managed to get a Hitler reference in, saying: “We didn’t have an fully functioning democracy during World War Two, it was shut down. The general election was cancelled, anyone expressing support for Hitler was thrown into prison.
“If you’re living in a wartime situation, it’s not good for democracy.”
Many praised Husain for her handling of the interview and expressed their disbelief at Livingstone’s comments...
Although others were less happy...
Castro’s death was announced on Cuban state television late on Friday.
In his address, the elderly leader said Castro died at 10.29pm on Friday and he will be cremated on Saturday before a period of national mourning is observed.
Castro stepped down as Cuba’s president 10 years ago after suffering a severe gastrointestinal illness, and before his 90th birthday in August he told supporters he expected to die soon.
He led a coup in 1959 to overthrow the regime of the US-backed former Cuban president Fulgencio Batista, and remained hostile to Washington throughout his life.
The Cuban government’s lack of transparency and the lack of an independent mass media on the island had long provided fertile ground for rumours of Castro’s demise after he fell ill in 2006.