Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau clarified his comments on the death of Cuban president Fidel Castro after being harshly criticised for them.
Trudeau said at a news conference on Sunday that his statement on Castro’s passing was meant “to recognise … a former head of state” that Canada has ties to, and not to overlook Castro’s history of human rights abuses, Reuters reported.
“The fact is Fidel Castro had a deep and lasting impact on the Cuban people,” Trudeau said at the news conference.
“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 on Sunday. He also acknowledged that Castro was a dictator when a CBC News reporter asked him about it.
In a statement released soon after Castro died, Trudeau expressed “deep sorrow” over his death and called him a “larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century.”
“A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation,” the original statement read.
Castro did garner support for improving access to healthcare and education for the poor, but was also known for ruthlessly suppressing any kind of dissent.
In 1976, Trudeau’s father, former prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, became the first NATO leader to visit Cuba since its revolution. Canada maintained relations with the island nation during America’s decades-long embargo.
Though Trudeau did acknowledge in the original statement that Castro was a “controversial” figure, he followed that by praising Castro’s “tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people.”
Quickly after the statement was released, critics slammed Trudeau’s comments. ;
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is of Cuban descent, tweeted, “Is this a real statement or parody? Because if this is a real statement from the PM of Canada it is shameful and embarrassing.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz echoed Rubio’s remarks, tweeting that Trudeau’s comments were “disgraceful.”
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