Trudeau statement on Castro death causes controversy

Justin Trudeau's official statement on the death of Fidel Castro criticized for being too laudatory of former dictator

The Prime Minister is facing criticism 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 late-night announcement that Castro had died at the age of 90.

Trudeau remembered the late president 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.

More: Trudeau offers condolences at Castro’s death

But others in Canada were less generous in their description of the controversial leader.

Opposition leader Rona Ambrose said in a written statement that under Castro’s rule, thousands of people were impoverished, imprisoned and executed.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Cuba who continue to endure his long and oppressive regime, even after his death,” she wrote.

And many people – particularly members of the Conservative Party – are condemning the prime minister’s statement, pointing out human rights violations during Castro’s half-century regime.

Conservative leadership hopeful Lisa Raitt wrote on Facebook that Trudeau should be ashamed of himself after his remarks.

“With those words, Justin Trudeau has placed himself on the wrong side of history – against the millions of Cubans yearning for freedom. The Prime Minister should be ashamed of himself. He must retract this statement and apologize,” she wrote.

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

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,” Write 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.”

More: Fidel Castro, defiant leader of communist Cuba, dies at 90

Maxime Bernier, who is also running for Conservative leadership, called Trudeau’s statement “repugnant.”

“He persecuted gay people, he was against freedom of speech and repressed free expression. He was not a president. He’s a dictator. So I’m not very comfortable with that press release,” he told The Canadian Press.

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.”

In his statement, Trudeau offered his condolences “on behalf of Canadians”.

Wright said that would likely upset some Canadians who wouldn’t want to be included in such “warm remarks.”

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