OTTAWA: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remembered Fidel Castro Saturday as a “remarkable leader” who will be mourned by Canada.
“While a controversial figure, 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,´” he said in a statement.
His kind words for Castro immediately drew scathing criticism from Conservative lawmakers who said Trudeau was praising a cruel dictator.
Trudeau´s father, former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, became the first leader of a NATO-member state to travel to Castro´s Cuba, arriving in January 1976 during the middle of the Cold War, against Washington´s wishes.
“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,” the prime minister said.
The Canadian leader visited Cuba only last week to boost ties, as the communist island´s historic breakthrough in restoring relations with the United States hangs in the balance following Donald Trump´s presidential election win.
“Fidel Castro was a larger-than-life leader who served his people for almost half a century,” Trudeau said on Saturday. “A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr Castro made significant improvements to the education and health care of his island nation.”
Trudeau and his wife, Sophie, “offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr Castro,” he added. “We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.”
In one of a series of attacks on Trudeau´s praise of Castro, Conservative Party lawmaker Kellie Leitch, who is vying to become party leader, said Trudeau had lauded Castro “as if reading from a story book.”
“When given the opportunity to recognize the Castro regime for what it was — brutal, oppressive, and murderous — our Prime Minister instead chose to lionize the man who denied his people basic freedoms for decades,” Leitch wrote on Facebook.