Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose family’s ties with the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro go back decades, mourned the loss of a “remarkable leader” on Saturday, sparking a flurry of criticism and humor at his favorable tone. Castro, who died on Friday aged 90, won support for bringing schools and hospitals to the poor but also created legions of enemies for his ruthless suppression of dissent.
Trudeau’s comments on Castro were markedly more positive than most Western leaders, who either condemned the revolutionary leader’s human rights record or tip-toed around the subject.
Instead, Trudeau warmly recalled his late father’s friendship with Castro and his own meeting with Castro’s three sons and brother – Raul, Cuba’s current president – during a visit to the island nation earlier this month.
“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’,” Trudeau said in the statement.
He called Castro “larger than life” and “a legendary revolutionary and orator.”
Fidel Castro was an honorary pall bearer at the 2000 funeral of Trudeau’s father, former prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau. In 1976, the senior Trudeau became the first NATO leader to visit Cuba since its revolution, at one point exhorting “Viva Castro!”
“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 Canadian prime minister said on Saturday.
Trudeau did not see Fidel Castro during his official visit to Cuba in November
His statement was met with puzzlement and derision by some Americans, including U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who is of Cuban descent.
“Is this a real statement or parody? Because if this is a real statement from the PM of Canada it is shameful and embarrassing,” Rubio tweeted.
The statement spawned the Twitter hashtag #TrudeauEulogies, which quickly began trending as people emulated Trudeau’s upbeat tone and lack of criticism.
“While controversial, Darth Vader achieved great heights in space construction and played a formative role in his son’s life,” tweeted @markusoff, riffing on the Star Wars movie villain.
Canada, long one of Cuba’s closest Western allies, hosted secret talks between Cuba and the United States, brokered by the Vatican, that led to the resumption of diplomatic ties between the two foes last year.