Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office has confirmed that he will not be attending the funeral of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, a man Trudeau has called a “larger-than-life” leader and “legendary revolutionary.”
The Prime Minister’s office issued a statement only stating that Trudeau would not personally be in attendance because “his schedule doesn’t permit it,” without addressing the wave of global condemnation Trudeau’s statement praising Castro upon his death has triggered.
In his official statement released Friday, Trudeau said he felt “deep sorrow” at the passing of the Cuban tyrant, responsible for thousands of firing squad executions, the internment of tens of thousands of “undesirables” in labor camps, and a million-strong exile population in the United States alone. “A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation,” Trudeau wrote. “Both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for ‘el Comandante.’”
Castro’s “detractors” in Miami appeared to disagree with the latter 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,” the statement concluded.
Trudeau’s statement elicited a wave of outrage and mockery, with internet users taking to the Twitter hashtag #TrudeauEulogies to pen equally offensive salutes to mass murderers.
Since asked whether he believed Castro to be a dictator, Trudeau said “yes” without elaborating. Instead, he reiterated that Castro had “a deep and lasting impact on the Cuban people.”
Both Trudeau’s family history and his own recent statements regarding the Castro regime seem to indicate that his statement of praise for Castro was sincere, not a failed attempt to respect the fact of his death but a clear statement of approval for the way he ran his country. Trudeau visited Cuba for the first time the week before Castro’s death, referring to current dictator Raúl Castro as “my friend” and using the opportunity to oppose the policies of American President-elect Donald Trump.
“Elections in the United States will not change the strong relationship, which is one of partners and friends, between Canada and Cuba,” he affirmed. “Canada has always been a true and sincere friend of Cuba and we have never seen a contradiction between being great friends of Cuba and good friends and partners with the United States.”
Trudeau was unable to meet with Fidel Castro, however, in what many at the time considered a snub, dismissing the Cuban government’s claim that Fidel was too fragile for the meeting. A week later, he died.
As he mentioned in his statement, Trudeau did meet Fidel Castro in 2000, on the occasion of the death of his father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. The New York Times highlighted Justin’s eulogy as “the last and most emotional” of the speeches given that day, and describes Fidel Castro as an “honorary pallbearer.”
Pierre Trudeau met Fidel Castro in 1976, and the two appeared to get along immediately. “Practically from the moment he stepped off his Armed Forces Boeing 707, Mr. Trudeau, his wife Margaret and his newborn son Michel endeared themselves to Fidel Castro and vice-versa,” writes Robert Wright in The Globe and Mail. “Three days later, it became obvious that the two leaders had become fast friends.”
Margaret Trudeau, Justin Trudeau’s mother, described Fidel Castro in 2014 as a “very warm and charming man – I enjoyed him.” She noted that Castro had attempted to convince the Trudeaus to send their older son Michel back to Cuba to receive “young pioneer” political indoctrination as a gesture of goodwill, though, much as they praised communist education in general, they chose not to submit their own child to it.