For the past few days, Conservative leadership candidates, Trudeau haters and U.S. Republicans have been lashing out at Justin Trudeau’s remarks on the death of the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
They have wailed hysterically that Trudeau is now “an international embarrassment” and that Canada’s “brand” has been ruined because he said Cubans had a “deep and lasting relationship” with Castro, who he called a “remarkable leader.”
They are also furious that Trudeau failed to mention in his initial reaction to Castro’s death that the late Cuban leader was a dictator and that Cuba’s record on human rights has been abysmal.
Clearly Trudeau could have restrained himself a bit in his first comments about Castro. He is now rolling back some of those remarks, telling reporters on Sunday that Castro was indeed a dictator and noting that he had raised the issue of human rights with Cuban officials earlier this month when he visited the island nation.
But these critics, who are blowing his remarks way out of proportion, obviously have forgotten that Canadian prime ministers from John Diefenbaker to Stephen Harper all retained solid diplomatic and economic relations with the Castro regime.
Indeed, Canada and the U.S. have taken starkly different approaches towards Cuba dating back to Diefenbaker’s days. It was Diefenbaker who refused U.S. demands to break off relations with Cuba after Castro seized power in 1958 from the corrupt Batista regime and who refused to put Canadian troops on combat-ready alert as demanded by Washington during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
It was Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney who maintained solid diplomatic and trade ties with Cuba in what has been described as “correct and cordial” relations.
And it was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government that brokered the recent deal between U.S. President Barack Obama and Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother who now leads the country, that opened the doors to American investment and tourism in Cuba and saw Obama make an historic visit to Havana earlier this year.
During his time in office the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had especially warm relations with Castro. That relationship was duly noted when Castro was an honorary pallbearer at Trudeau’s funeral in 2000. But while he was expanding trade with Cuba, Trudeau was also voicing deep concerns to Castro on human rights and over Cuba’s military involvement in Africa, especially Angola.
Since Castro came to power, Canada’s positioning on Cuba has significantly diverged from that of the Americans.
While the U.S. isolated the Castro regime both politically and economically, and tried to get other nations to join in its boycott, Canada encouraged increased business and cultural ties with Cuba. Ottawa backed academic and cultural exchanges and provided foreign aid for programs designed to improve the lives of average Cubans.
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