UNITED NATIONS – The president of the U.N. General Assembly called Fidel Castro "one of the 20th century's most iconic and influential leaders" at a memorial tribute Tuesday to the late commander of the Cuban revolution who led his country for nearly 50 years.
Peter Thompson told the ceremony in the assembly chamber that for many people Castro "embodied the struggle of the global south for independence, justice and development."
He said Castro's "activism in pursuit of a fairer and more just world made him a symbol of resistance and inspiration to people across the world in Latin America, Africa and beyond."
Nearly 30 representatives of various groups and countries lauded Castro, who died Nov. 25 at the age of 90. But there were no speakers from Western nations.
Outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Castro "one of the most important Latin American leaders of the 20th century" and "the most influential shaper of Cuban history since his own hero, Jose Marti, struggled for Cuban independence in the late 19th century."
Castro left "a major imprint on his country and global politics," Ban said in remarks read by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenca. "Until his last days he was deeply concerned about the future of humanity and the challenges of our times."
Speaker after speaker lauded Castro for providing Cubans with free health care and education, and for bringing Cuba's illiteracy and infant mortality rates to among the lowest in the world.
Venezuela's Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Samuel Moncada, speaking on behalf of the Nonaligned Movement, recalled that Castro was a founding member of the organization which now represents 120 mainly developing countries.
"President Castro was a true defender of the south and the new economic international order, as well as the establishment of a peaceful, prosperous, just, equitable and multipolar world," Moncada said.
"He will always be remembered as an emblematic icon of the Cuban Revolution, as a prominent figure in Latin America, and as a leader committed to the just causes of the world, and with amazing capacity to connect with the vulnerable," he said.
Cuba's U.N. deputy ambassador Ana Silvia Rodríguez Abascal thanked all those who paid tribute to Castro and drew loud applause when she said he "forever will be the commander and leader of the Cuban revolution."