Canada’s Trudeau to skip Castro’s funeral

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will not attend the funeral of Fidel Castro, his office said on Monday, days after Trudeau’s praise of the late Cuban leader sparked a backlash.

Governor General David Johnston, Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in Canada, will attend a commemoration in honor of Castro on Tuesday, at the request of Trudeau.

Trudeau sparked fury and online mockery after he referred to Castro as a “remarkable leader” and expressed his sorrow at the death of “Cuba’s longest serving president”.

On Sunday he defended his comments, saying that he simply meant “to recognise the passing of a former head of state” of a country that Canada had longstanding ties with, and not to gloss over unflattering history.

“The fact is Fidel Castro had a deep and lasting impact on the Cuban people,” Trudeau told reporters in a televised news conference at a Madagascar Francophonie summit.

“He certainly was a polarising figure and there certainly were significant concerns around human rights, that’s something I’m open about and that I’ve highlighted.”

Trudeau said he had raised the issue of human rights during an official visit to Cuba earlier this month.

Asked whether he thought Castro was a dictator, Trudeau said: “Yes.”

Castro was an honorary pallbearer at the 2000 funeral of Trudeau’s father, former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who was the first NATO leader to visit Cuba back in 1976.

Trudeau’s initial statement, which was markedly more positive than most Western leaders, sparked a backlash on Saturday, especially among some US Republicans and Cuban exiles in the United States.

Canada has long been one of Cuba’s closest western allies, maintaining ties after its 1959 revolution.

During his November visit, Trudeau said that Canada would maintain its relationship with Cuba even if that put it at odds with US President-elect Donald Trump, who has threatened to reverse the US-Cuban detente.