Fidel Castro was a dictator, Trudeau says

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Fidel Castro was a dictator and he did not intend to minimize the former Cuban leader’s human rights abuses.

The prime minister came under fire Saturday after issuing a statement of condolences for Castro in which he described the former president as “a remarkable leader” and family friend. 

“There are people who have many memories and who experienced a great deal of difficulty because of what happened in Cuba, and I am not minimizing any of that,” Trudeau said Sunday in Madagascar, where he is attending la Francophonie summit of French-speaking nations.

Asked by CBC News senior parliamentary reporter Catherine Cullen whether he believes Castro was a dictator, Trudeau replied: “Yes.”

“The fact is Fidel Castro had a deep and lasting impact on the Cuban people. He certainly was a polarizing figure and there certainly were concerns around human rights. That’s something that I’m open about and that I’ve highlighted,” he added. 

“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.”

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, who is also at the summit, defended Trudeau, calling his statement about Castro’s death “well-balanced.

Castro was an extremely divisive figure, hailed by some as a revolutionary icon and decried by others as a totalitarian dictator. 

He deposed the military dictatorship of Gen. Fulgencio Batista in 1959, often stood up to the United States, implemented programs to raise literacy and education levels among the rural population and created a national health-care system.

His system of one-man and one-party rule kept him in power for 49 years, the longest of any head of government in the world.

Under his rule, at least 582 Batista loyalists were executed by firing squad, independent newspapers were closed, LGBT people were herded into camps for “re-education” and hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled, mostly to the U.S.

Trudeau’s father, former prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau rankled many in 1976 when he became the first NATO leader — in fact, the first Western leader — to visit Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

The two got on famously, developing a close bond that would last for decades after that encounter.

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