Trudeau widely criticized for Castro statement
Published Saturday, November 26, 2016 4:57AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, November 26, 2016 9:35PM EST
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is drawing criticism for referring to Fidel Castro as a “remarkable leader” and “legendary revolutionary” following the death of the former Cuban leader.
Castro’s death was announced on Cuban state television early Saturday. He was 90 years old.
In a statement, Trudeau wrote that “it is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving president.” He offered his “deepest condolences” on behalf of all Canadians.
“We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader,” he said.
Maxime Bernier, who is running for the Conservative leadership, issued a series of tweets criticizing Trudeau for “praising” Castro.
“I can’t believe our PM is expressing ‘deep sorrow’ and calling ‘legendary revolutionary’ and ‘remarkable leader’ a despicable dictator who killed and imprisoned thousands of innocents and drove away in exile more than a million…” Bernier tweeted.
1/I can't believe our PM is expressing "deep sorrow" and calling "legendary revolutionary" and "remarkable leader"...https://t.co/vgzvVPPG7Y— Maxime Bernier (@MaximeBernier) November 26, 2016
2/ a despicable dictator who killed and imprisoned thousands of innocents and drove away in exile more than a million...— Maxime Bernier (@MaximeBernier) November 26, 2016
3/ who kept his country poor with his crazy communist policies, repressed free expression, persecuted gays...— Maxime Bernier (@MaximeBernier) November 26, 2016
4/ while he himself amassed a fortune and lived in luxury like all dictators who exploit their people. It's revolting.— Maxime Bernier (@MaximeBernier) November 26, 2016
Another Conservative leadership hopeful, Lisa Raitt, said Saturday that Castro was a “monstrous dictator.” She called on Trudeau to retract his statement and apologize.
“With those words, Justin Trudeau has placed himself on the wrong side of history – against the millions of Cubans yearning for freedom,” Raitt wrote in a Facebook post.
Trudeau’s words also drew heavy criticism from south of the border. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio tweeted the statement, writing “Is this a real statement or parody? Because if this is a real statement from the PM of Canada it is shameful and embarrassing.”
Is this a real statement or a parody? Because if this is a real statement from the PM of Canada it is shameful & embarrassing. https://t.co/lFXeqU7Ws0— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) November 26, 2016
Texas Senator Ted Cruz likened Trudeau’s words to a glorification of historically unsavory Marxist leaders, tweeting "Disgraceful. Why do young socialists idolize totalitarian tyrants? Castro, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot -- all evil, torturing murderers."
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion struck a more cautious note to mark Castro’s death, 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."
Robert Wright, author of the book “Three Nights in Havana” on the close ties between Castro former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, said Castro’s death put the prime minister in an awkward position akin to walking a “knife’s edge.”
Pierre Trudeau and Castro developed a close friendship in the 1990s. The dictator and the former prime minister engaged in many lengthy talks at formal dinners hosted by the Canada’s ambassador to Cuba, Mark Entwistle.
Trudeau’s former policy advisor Roland Paris questioned the prime minister’s comments, saying on Twitter “It’s not a statement I would have recommended.”
The reminder of the elder Trudeau’s close ties to the long-time dictator did not sit well with some members of Canada’s Cuban community. Nelson Taylor of the Cuban-Canadian Foundation called Trudeau's statement "an embarrassment" and a "disservice" to Canadian values and the people of 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."
The Cuban revolutionary led a rebel army to victory in the late 1950s and, at 32 years old, became the youngest leader in Latin America. Castro would spend the next five decades defying the power of 10 U.S. presidents with his socialist ideals and leadership rooted in Soviet-style communism.
“While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognize his tremendous dedication and love the Cuban people who had a need and lasting affection for ‘El Comandante,’” Trudeau said.
The prime minister is currently in Antananarivo, Madagascar for the summit of la Francophonie.
In a statement, Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose said that her “thoughts and prayers are with the people of Cuba who continue to endure his long and oppressive regime, even after his death.”
She added that under Castro’s rule, thousands of Cubans were impoverished, imprisoned and executed “and free speech, thought and assembly were curtailed or banned, all to live up to his version of ‘socialism.’”
Ambrose noted that Canada and the Cuban people have had a “warm friendship” over many years, and that with today’s news, her "hope is that a brighter day” will be coming for the island nation.
With files from The Associated Press and the Canadian Press