Justin Trudeau faces backlash after Castro tribute

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

Justin Trudeau posted a written statement early Saturday after the late-night announcement that Castro had died at the age of 90.

Trudeau remembered the late president as a “legendary revolutionary and orator,” and said he was a good friend of his father’s.

Trudeau condemned on social media

But some in Canada — particularly members of the Conservative Party — are condemning the prime minister’s statement, pointing out human rights violations during Castro’s half-century regime.

Maxime Bernier, Quebec MP and a candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, turned to social media to express his disbelief at Trudeau’s tribute, calling it repugnant.

“I can’t believe our PM is expressing ‘deep sorrow’ and calling [Castro a] ‘legendary revolutionary’ and ‘remarkable leader,'” Bernier said on Twitter. 

Bernier also called Castro a “despicable dictator who killed and imprisoned thousands of innocents and drove away in exile more than a million.”

Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch wrote on Facebook that Trudeau should have called Castro’s administration “brutal, oppressive, and murderous,” rather than describing him “as if reading from a story book.”

And while former prime minister Stephen Harper hasn’t weighed in, his son Ben Harper has.

The younger Harper tweeted, “Castro was a monstrous leader, and the world is better off now he’s dead.”

He also tweeted that Trudeau’s statement is “an embarrassment for Canada.”

International reaction

Others mocked the prime minister’s praise for Castro and tweeted fake eulogies for other polarizing figures using the hashtag #trudeaueulogies.

U.S. Senator for Florida Marco Rubio, who also ran against Trump in the last presidential election, questioned if Trudeau’s statement was real or a parody and said it’s shameful and embarrassing if it’s real. 

‘Larger than life leader’

In his statement, Trudeau remembered Castro as “a larger than life leader.”

Trudeau, who is attending the Francophonie Summit in Madagascar, expressed his deep sorrow at learning of Castro’s passing.

His statement offered condolences on behalf of all Canadians and at the same time acknowledged that Castro was “a controversial figure.”

Castro was divisive. To some, he was a revolutionary icon. To others, he was a totalitarian dictator. His system of one-man and one-party rule kept him in power for 49 years, the longest of any head of government in the world.

Trudeau also referred to the late president as a “legendary revolutionary and orator.”

The prime minister went on to say that “Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.”

“On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader,” the prime minister said.

From the archives: Fidel Castro speaks to CBC in 19591:06

Trudeau family ties

Trudeau recently travelled to Cuba but was unable to meet with Castro, who had been a friend of his father and served as an honorary pallbearer at Pierre Trudeau’s funeral in 2000.

​However, Castro’s brother, the current president, was in the front row as the prime minister spoke to students at the University of Havana.

Trudeau said it was a real honour to meet Castro’s three sons and his brother while he was in Cuba. 

The Trudeau family has a long history with the Castros.

In January 1976, then prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau rankled many when he became the first NATO leader — in fact, the first Western leader — to visit Fidel Castro’s Cuba. The two got on famously, developing a close bond that would last for decades after that encounter.

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

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