Canadian PM Justin Trudeau meets with Cuban students and activists on Tuesday.

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau meets with Cuban students and activists on Tuesday.

Trudeau faces international criticism over statement on Fidel Castro’s death

Trudeau faces criticism over Castro statement

The prime minister is facing criticism at home and abroad for his statement expressing “deep sorrow” about the death of former Cuban president Fidel Castro.

Justin Trudeau, who recently returned from a diplomatic visit to Cuba, made the statement early Saturday after the announcement that Castro had died at the age of 90.

Trudeau acknowledged the late president was a “controversial figure,” but remembered him as a “larger-than-life leader,” who made significant improvements to Cuba’s education and health-care systems.

“A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and health care of his island nation,” Trudeau said.

“I know my father was very proud to call him a friend,” he added.

But others in Canada — and around the world — were less generous in their description of the deceased, and some have condemned the prime minister’s statement, pointing out human rights violations during Castro’s half-century regime.

Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American senator for Florida, wrote on Twitter, “Is this a real statement or a parody? Because if this is a real statement from the PM of Canada it is shameful (and) embarrassing.”

Conservative leadership hopeful Lisa Raitt wrote in an open letter to Trudeau that he “dismissed Castro’s crimes as simply ‘controversial.’ They were not controversial. They were egregious crimes against humanity, and you should be ashamed to give your approval to a brutal regime that exported terror.”

Raitt also called on Trudeau to “decline in the strongest terms” if he is invited to Castro’s funeral.

“Canada must not be seen celebrating the life of a tyrant,” she wrote.

Others running to be party leader also weighed in, including Maxime Bernier and Kellie Leitch.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion was more subdued and noted Castro’s death by tweeting: “An iconic figure of the 20th century passed away last night. Deepest condolences to the people of #Cuba, following the death of Fidel Castro.”

Nelson Taylor of the Cuban-Canadian Foundation called Trudeau’s statement “an embarrassment,” and a “disservice” to Canadian values and the people of Cuba.

“He’s our prime minister, but he’s talking on behalf of Canadians, people who elected him freely, giving the same kind of respect and equivalence to a tyrant who’s been there forever,” Taylor said Saturday.

He said Cuban-Canadians are celebrating Castro’s death, adding “it’s not as morbid as it sounds.”

“It’s not the death of an individual, it’s the closing of a bloody chapter in Cuban history,” Taylor said. “We haven’t enjoyed freedom of expression, freedom of thought, freedom of anything in Cuba for 60 years.”

The Cuban-Canadian Foundation, which describes itself as a non-profit organization that provides assistance to the Cuban community in exile and works to promote a transition to democracy in Cuba, estimates there are about 20,000 Cuban exiles living in Canada.

Robert Wright, who wrote the book “Three Nights in Havana” about the relationship between Castro and Pierre Trudeau, said it made sense Trudeau would express warm condolences for Castro.

“He has to walk a knife’s edge,” he said. “Canadians have a long, rather proper diplomatic relationship with revolutionary Cuba.”

“On the one hand Justin Trudeau has his family inheritance: his father’s very, very warm friendship with Fidel Castro, and Justin’s own warm rapport with the Cubans,” Wright said. “And on the other hand, he has to face criticism when Raul Castro says Cuba will take its own time on democratic reforms and won’t be rushed by Obama or Justin Trudeau or anyone else.”

Castro acted as an honorary pallbearer at Pierre Trudeau’s funeral, along with Leonard Cohen, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and the Aga Khan.

In his statement, Trudeau offered his condolences “on behalf of Canadians,” a move Wright said is likely to upset some Canadians who wouldn’t want to be included in such “warm remarks.”

Trudeau’s former foreign policy adviser Roland Paris was among those taking the prime minister to task, saying on Twitter “It’s not a statement I would have recommended.”

In addition to Rubio, Trudeau’s comments also garnered criticism from others in the United States, a long-time political adversary of Cuba.

“Disgraceful. Why do young socialists idolize totalitarian tyrants? Castro, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot â€” all evil, torturing murderers,” Texas Senator Ted Cruz said on Twitter.

Ian Bremmer, an American political scientist who specializes in U.S. foreign policy, tweeted that “Cuban citizens and exiles deserve better” from Trudeau.

And social media users took the opportunity to mock the prime minister using the hashtag “#TrudeauEulogies,” which imagines eulogies of dictators and criminals written in the style of Trudeau’s statement.

For instance, user @MW_Johnson1 wrote, “While a controversial figure, John Wilkes Booth will be remembered as a lover of the theatre.”

Trudeau’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the backlash.

 

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Saanich golfer and top B.C. junior and juvenile player Willy Bishop was named to the 2021 Canadian National Junior Golf Squad on Nov. 19. (Photo courtesy Jenny Bishop)
Saanich student to tee-off with national golf team

Willy Bishop, 16, named to Canadian National Junior Golf Squad in 2021

Island Health has reported a COVID-19 outbreak at Saanich Peninsula Hospital. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)
Four new COVID-19 cases added to Saanich Peninsula Hospital outbreak

Inital round of patient testing is complete, staff testing continues

A rendering of Victoria Wonderland, a drive-thru immersive holiday experience that has been cancelled due to COVID-19. (Courtesy of Transcend Victoria)
Victoria Wonderland drive-thru show cancelled due to COVID-19

Organizers hope to host a similar event, if restrictions allow, in the new year

Swiftsure International Yacht Race 2018. (Black Press Media file photo)
Popular Swiftsure yacht race cancelled for second consecutive year

International sailing race hopes to run its 77th event in 2022

Andrew McBride is among those who deck out for Sea of Lights floating ship parade annually. (Black Press Media file photo)
Pandemic sinks Royal Victoria Yacht Club’s Sea of Lights

Oak Bay club encourages donations to the charities event supports

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

(AP Photo/Paula Bronstein)
POLL: Has COVID-19 changed your plans for the holidays?

The lights are going up, the stacks of presents under the tree… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Dec. 1

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Watch Messiah at home with the Sooke Philharmonic

Concert available to stream Dec. 12

Emergency crews used a backhoe loader to clear fire debris from the scene of a fire on Wesley Street Thursday as police and firefighters gathered up propane tanks, stoves and fireplaces used by camp residents to heat tents. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
City of Nanaimo dismantles downtown homeless encampment after fire

Four to six tents burned up in Wesley Street fire Thursday, Dec. 3

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

BC Ambulance Services reassures people that the service is well staffed and ready to respond. Photo by Don Bodger
BC Ambulance assures the Island community they’re ‘fully staffed’

‘Paramedics are not limited to a geographical area.’ — BCEHS

(Pixabay)
Canadians’ mental health has deteriorated with the second wave, study finds

Increased substance use one of the ways people are coping

Most Read