Justin Trudeau defends tribute to Fidel Castro

But the Canadian Prime Minister sought to provide some historical context to his remarks and drew attention to his human rights record

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The Independent Online

Justin Trudeau has defended his warm tribute to Fidel Castro but attempted to provide some historical context to his statement, insisting he is fully aware of the late Cuban leader’s human rights record.

The Canadian Prime Minister prompted outrage for praising the former Cuban leader and revolutionary who has left behind a profoundly divided legacy. He hailed Castro, who died at the age of 90 on Friday, as a “remarkable leader” and a “legendary revolutionary and orator” and fondly remembered his late father’s friendship with Castro.

Mr Trudeau quickly found himself mocked on social media, with the Twitter hashtag  #trudeaueulogies trending. People mocked his genial tone as they sardonically paid tribute to figures such as Osama Bin Laden, Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin. 

The politician was condemned by some Conservative politicians in Canada and US Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who are both of Cuban descent, for his remarks.

Speaking at a news conference in Madagascar on Sunday, Mr Trudeau stood by his initial remarks but sought to provide a more balanced perspective on Castro.

“Fidel Castro had a deep and lasting impact on the Cuban people,” he told reporters. 

“He certainly was a polarising figure and there certainly were significant concerns around human rights. That’s something I’m open about and that I’ve highlighted.”

“But on the passing of his death I expressed a statement that highlighted the deep connection between the people of Canada and the people of Cuba. Canadians know that I always talk about human rights, including here yesterday, including with Raul Castro two weeks ago, including wherever I go in the world.”

When probed about whether he thought Castro was a dictator, he said: “Yes”.

Canada has been one of Cuba’s closest western allies for a long time and the countries sustained their connection after the Cuban revolution in 1959. What’s more, Castro was an honorary pallbearer at the funeral of Mr Trudeau’s father and former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 2000. On top of this, his father was the first leader of a Nato member state to visit communist Cuba in 1976.

“While a controversial figure, both Mr Castro’s supporters and detractors recognised his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for “el Comandante,” Mr Trudeau said in his initial statement.

“I know my father was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father passed away. It was also a real honour to meet his three sons and his brother President Raúl Castro during my recent visit to Cuba.”

On Sunday, some Conservative opposition lawmakers advised Mr Trudeau to boycott Castro’s funeral. The Prime Minister’s office have made it clear that no decision had yet to be made on who was going to represent Canada at the funeral.

Castro was a deeply divisive figure in life and death. Reactions to his passing have ranged from street celebrations in Miami to solemn mourning in Cuba and melancholic tributes. While his supporters hail him as the leader of the revolution which returned to its people and praise him for bringing universal free education and healthcare to Cuba, his detractors condemn his human rights record and say he suppressed dissent.