Analysis: Justin Trudeau’s confusing Fidel Castro defence
He’s a legendary revolutionary. No, he’s a dictator.
Which is it?
In the span of about 24 hours, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used both phrases to describe controversial former Cuban president Fidel Castro.
First, Trudeau released a statement on Castro’s passing.
“A legendary revolutionary and orator…”
“Larger than life leader…”
“Made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.”
WATCH: Trudeau gives his condolences to Castro family over their loss
Other than calling him a “controversial figure” though, there was no mention of the many human rights abuses that took place during Castro’s tenure.
Oh, Trudeau also called him Cuba’s longest-serving president. Dictators do usually get to serve for awhile.
The reaction was swift, harsh and mocking. International headlines in the Washington Post, New York Times and The Guardian criticized the statement, the hashtag #Trudeaueulogies trended for hours and even one of Trudeau’s top former foreign policy advisors piled on. Roland Paris tweeted “it’s not a statement I would have recommended”.
Fast forward a day, Trudeau is at the Francophonie summit in Madagascar and holding a press conference.
Global News asked him if not mentioning human rights abuses in the statement was appropriate.
WATCH: Cubans are observing 9 days of mourning following the death of former dictator Fidel Castro
“It was a statement to recognize the passing of a former head of state and of a state with which Canada has had a deep and lasting friendship,” Trudeau said. “As people know and can make no mistake about, I never shy away from bringing up human rights wherever I go.”
Then the Prime Minister was asked if he thought Castro was a dictator.
“Yes,” Trudeau answered after pausing a few seconds.
“He certainly was a polarizing figure and there certainly were concerns around human rights,” the PM went on. “That’s something that 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.”
It’s hard to understand how one can acknowledge a leader is a dictator but shower him with praise. Sure, Castro’s legacy isn’t clear-cut, but praising the actions of someone you admit is a dictator is a tough pill to swallow and it’s hard not to imagine the Prime Minister will be walking back his confusing defence in the coming days.
There are already signs. While his statement talked about his family’s close ties to Castro (Pierre Trudeau and the Cuban leader were close friends), at the press conference Trudeau didn’t mention those ties at all.
He instead repeatedly talked about Canada’s close relationship with Cuba as a state, trying to dial back the controversy without much success – yet.
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