Speak no ill of dead, unless America dislikes them

The Twitterverse was abuzz and somewhat apoplectic (in an alt-right kind of way) following a recent statement of condolence expressed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau upon news of the passage of one of the 20th Century’s giants, former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, at the age of 90.

In case you missed the actual statement in the avalanche of fallout from right wing commentators, Prime Minister Trudeau said: “It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving president. Fidel Castro was 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. 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.’ 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. It was also a real honour to meet his three sons and his brother President Raúl Castro during my recent visit to Cuba. On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.”

This led the acting leader of the opposition to demand the prime minister issue a retraction and an apology. Perhaps preferring something more in keeping with US president-elect Donald Trump’s condemnation of the Cuban leader as a “brutal dictator that deprived his people of the freedom they so richly deserve.”

Fidel Castro, like his predecessor strongman, dictator and Mafia darling Fulgencio Batista, undoubtedly ruled his country with an iron fist. In a game of chicken played with succeeding US presidents he even brought the world to the brink of nuclear Armageddon at least once, but unlike the widely despised Batista, no popular revolution ever came even close to unseating him.

Mr. Castro, for all his shortcomings, clearly loved his country and, as the prime minister pointed out, built a medical and educational infrastructure that has not only benefitted his own country, but many other third world countries. He was indisputably a giant figure on the international stage. With a country the fraction of the size of America, or even South Africa, Mr. Castro stood up to the white supremacist regimes that oppressed Africa’s black majority.

Mr. Castro was a Trudeau family friend—it was former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who, thumbing his nose at the US administration, built close diplomatic ties with Cuba and charted an independent course for Canada. Generations of Canadians have, as a result, been able to enjoy a winter vacation alternative to Florida, as well as fine Cuban cigars.

While Prime Minister Trudeau may have been less circumspect in his statement than foreign affairs bureaucrats would have approved—it is difficult to find that much to argue with in the text of his statement and it was certainly an unusually heartfelt expression of condolence to the people of a nation with whom Canada has always enjoyed good relations with.

Leaders of nations do not usually greet the death of other leaders with glee or condemnation and, although US President Barak Obama’s statement was slightly more circumspect, it was far closer to that of Prime Minister Trudeau than that of Donald Trump. Both Prime Minister Trudeau and president-elect Trump have promised to do politics differently—their statements on the passing of Fidel Castro gives a hint of just how different those ways will prove to be.