OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office says he won’t be attending any memorial or funeral services for the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro, saying his schedule wouldn’t allow him to attend.
Instead, Trudeau has dispatched Governor General David Johnston to attend a memorial service scheduled to take place Tuesday in Havana.
The service is to take place in Plaza de la Revolucion in Havana, a massive square where Castro often spoke to supporters. It will also be steps away from a memorial where Trudeau laid a wreath during his recent visit to the island nation.
The Prime Minister’s Office would not say if any other government representatives would attend memorial services or Castro’s funeral.
Other world leaders are also staying away from Castro’s funeral, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Theresa May. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto is reportedly planning to attend.
Trudeau’s decision follows harsh criticism at home and abroad for a laudatory statement issued on the weekend that praised the dictator’s legacy.
Trudeau’s statement expressed “deep sorrow” about the death of Castro, 90, without mentioning the human rights violations of his regime beyond referring vaguely to him as a “a controversial figure.” Trudeau also described Castro as a “legendary revolutionary and orator” who made significant improvements to the education and health-care systems of Cuba.
Trudeau defended his statement by saying he was trying to highlight the connections between Canada and Cuba.
The Opposition Conservatives took Trudeau to task Monday in the House of Commons, urging him to amend his written statement after agreeing in a news conference Sunday that Castro was a dictator.
The Tories called the prime minister naive and demanded that he apologize for trying to whitewash Castro’s past.
“The prime minister, instead of paying tribute to a dictator, should have offered condolences to the long-suffering oppressed people of Cuba,” said Kent.
“The prime minister should have spoken of hopes for a better democratic future for the people of Cuba.”
He said Trudeau “not only expressed personal sorrow at Fidel’s passing, but described as a real honour his recent meeting with Fidel’s successor, the equally ruthless Raul.”
The Liberals stood by the statement. Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion cited laudatory statements from other world leaders, like Pena Nieto and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.
Dion said Canada has not always agreed with the Cuban regime, but maintained ties to support the Cuban people. It was important, he said, for Canada to use its relationship with Cuba to help Cubans take steps towards democracy.
Trudeau did not meet with Fidel Castro during his official visit two weeks ago. Castro had rarely been seen during his last years as his health failed, and his ability to meet with visitors even for a few minutes was largely dictated by his doctors’ decision.
During a meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, Fidel’s younger brother, Trudeau spoke of “the friendship between your family and mine.”
“It’s nothing compared to the true friendship between all Canadians and all Cubans and I look forward to continuing to build on that,” he continued.