North Korea mourns Cas­tro: A dis­tant ‘com­rade’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

North Korea be­gan three days of of­fi­cial mourn­ing yes­ter­day for late Cuban leader Fidel Cas­tro, re­mem­ber­ing him as a “close friend” and heroic ally in a joint strug­gle against US ag­gres­sion. Flags flew at half-mast at of­fi­cial build­ings across the coun­try as a mark of re­spect for the rev­o­lu­tion­ary icon, de­spite a re­la­tion­ship that was often warmer in rhetoric than re­al­ity. In the Py­ongyang sub­way, com­muters in one sta­tion crowded around a glass case con­tain­ing a Cas­tro obit­u­ary pub­lished by the rul­ing party news­pa­per, Rodong Sin­mun.

Along­side a pic­ture framed with a black border and show­ing a head-and­shoul­der shot of a bearded Cas­tro in full mil­i­tary dress, the obit re­called his visit to North Korea in 1986 when he met founder-leader Kim Il-Sung. It noted that the Cuban leader was awarded the ti­tle of “DPRK (North Korea) Hero” for his ef­forts to strengthen re­la­tions be­tween two coun­tries “fight­ing in the out­posts of the an­tiUS, anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist strug­gle.” Kim HongChol, 76, a re­tired lit­er­ary re­searcher in Py­ongyang, said he clearly re­mem­bered Kim’s visit. “He was a great rev­o­lu­tion­ary. Un­til the last minute he sup­ported and de­fended our rev­o­lu­tion, and fought in­tensely for anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist in­de­pen­dence and against Amer­ica,” Kim said.

Asked about the his­toric restora­tion of Cuba-US diplo­matic re­la­tions last year, Kim said Ha­vana had acted “tac­ti­cally for Cuba’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary ben­e­fit”. Or­di­nary North Kore­ans usu­ally ex­press only of­fi­cially­sanc­tioned views when ques­tioned by for­eign news or­ga­ni­za­tions. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un sent a condolence mes­sage on Cas­tro’s death, call­ing him a “close friend and com­rade” of the Korean peo­ple. An of­fi­cial del­e­ga­tion led by se­nior Kim aide and vice chair­man of the rul­ing Work­ers’ Party Cen­tral Com­mit­tee, Choe Ry­ong-Hae, left for Ha­vana yes­ter­day to at­tend memo­rial events.

Cas­tro only made the one visit to the North. The fact that it came decades af­ter the Cuban rev­o­lu­tion and Kim’s as­cent to power was partly a re­flec­tion of a ge­o­graph­i­cal, cul­tural and often ide­o­log­i­cal di­vide that a shared ha­tred of the “US en­emy” could never fully bridge. Nei­ther Kim Il-Sung nor his son and suc­ces­sor Kim Jong-Il-who had a pro­found fear of fly­ing-ever made the trip to Ha­vana. Dur­ing the 1970s they were ri­vals in the Non-Aligned Move­ment, with Cas­tro fa­vor­ing the Soviet Union while Kim IlSung kept an equal dis­tance from Moscow and Bei­jing in a bid to play the com­mu­nist gi­ants off each other.

When Cas­tro at­tended a NAM sum­mit in Malaysia in 2003, he stopped off in China, Ja­pan and Viet­nam-but not North Korea. But if per­sonal chem­istry was lack­ing, the two coun­tries re­mained al­lies, with Cuba one of the few coun­tries will­ing to flout the in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions im­posed on the North over its nu­clear weapons pro­gram. In 2013 Panama seized a North Korean ship car­ry­ing an un­de­clared Cuban arms ship­ment of Soviet-era weapons and fighter jets hid­den un­der sacks of sugar. North Korea in­sisted the weapons were be­ing shipped for re­pair, prior to their re­turn. — AFP

BANDA ACEH: A re­li­gious of­fi­cer canes an Acehnese man 100 times for hav­ing sex out­side mar­riage, which is against sharia law, in Banda Aceh yes­ter­day. — AFP

PY­ONGYANG: A gen­eral view shows the Py­ongyang city sky­line. — AFP

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