by Thomas Walkom
Justin Trudeau’s decision to skip Fidel Castro’s funeral is misguided and disappointing.
It is misguided because the prime minister is relinquishing a chance to underscore Canada’s unique relationship with the Cuba that Castro’s 1959 revolution created.
It is disappointing because Trudeau has allowed himself to be browbeaten by the usual suspects: anti-Communists posing as human rights warriors who can find no good in modern Cuba.
By dispatching Governor General David Johnston in his stead to this week’s funeral for the former Cuban president and dictator, Trudeau is taking an easy and well-trodden path.
Many world leaders, including France’s Francois Hollande and Britain’s Theresa May, have decided not to personally attend Castro’s funeral.
Some are wary of being on the wrong side of Castro’s longtime nemesis, the United States – particularly at a time when U.S. president-elect Donald Trump is promising a harder line against the island nation.
Others are merely taking their cue from current U.S. President Barack Obama, who has announced he won’t attend.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin will also be a no-show. Presumably, he doesn’t want to spook Trump by reviving old Cold War memories.
However, Mexico’s president will be there, as will the left-leaning leaders of Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua. The Cuban revolution has meaning in Central and South America.
In recognition of Castro’s unwavering support for the anti-Apartheid struggle, South African President Jacob Zuma plans to be at the funeral as well.
Under successive Conservative and Liberal governments, Canada has had a special relationship with Castro’s Cuba.
Prime ministers such as John Diefenbaker and Pierre Trudeau had no patience for Castro’s Marxist-Leninist methods. But they also understood the context in which the Cuban revolution had taken place.
That context included gross inequality in pre-1959 Cuba as well as domination by the U.S. next door.
The trade and investment embargo the U.S. placed on Cuba after the revolution was a blatant and savage attempt at regime change. Canada understood that, too, and chose not participate.
Instead, it supported Canadian companies that invested in Cuba and Canadian tourists who flocked there.
Pierre Trudeau’s seminal visit to revolutionary Cuba in 1976 created the outline for a path to reconciliation between Washington and Havana, a path based not on hectoring but on realism and respect.
Almost four decades later, Obama and Castro’s brother Raul tentatively embarked on that path.
Fidel Castro understood the importance of the Canada-Cuba relationship. When he showed up at Pierre Trudeau’s funeral in 2000, it wasn’t just as an old friend. It was as the leader of the Cuban revolution paying his respects to Canada.
Unfortunately, Pierre’s son Justin is not reciprocating this courtesy.
I’m not sure why the current Trudeau lost his nerve. True, he is being attacked for not mentioning, in his eulogy of Castro, that the former president was also a dictator.
But then neither did Obama, who contented himself with referring to Castro as “singular” (Trudeau used the word “remarkable”). Nor did U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who talked of Castro’s “outsized role” (Trudeau used the phrase “larger than life”).
Still, Trudeau is being mocked on Twitter. Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose has chastised Trudeau for calling Castro remarkable. Conservative foreign affairs critic Peter Kent has accused Trudeau of being naive.
Even hard-right U.S. Republicans, such as Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, have attacked the Canadian prime minister.
That all of this is happening is not surprising. What is surprising is that Trudeau seems to care what these people think.
His father wouldn’t have cared. Pierre Trudeau wouldn’t have snubbed Fidel Castro just to mollify social media, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.
He would have gone proudly to the old villain’s funeral. And in spite of themselves, Canadians would have loved him for going.
Thomas Walkom appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Copyright 2016-Torstar Syndication Services