Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid tribute to former Cuban president Fidel Castro, calling him a “legendary revolutionary” and noting that his father “was very proud to call him a friend.”
The statement, issued hours after Castro’s death was announced, sparked backlash online, with prominent Conservatives denouncing Trudeau for praising him as a “remarkable leader” despite a record of human rights violations and repressive policies.
“It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President,” Trudeau said in the statement.
“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,” Trudeau said. “We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.”
Trudeau’s statement was in stark contrast to that of President-elect Donald Trump, who initially tweeted “Fidel Castro is dead!” and then followed up with a statement that called him a “brutal dictator.”
“Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights,” read the statement that expressed hope for “a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.”
Conservative politicians in Canada echoed some of those sentiments on Twitter on Saturday, blasting Trudeau for having paid tribute to Castro in such a fashion.
Other commentators online also criticized the tone of Trudeau’s remarks.
Castro and Trudeau’s father, the late prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, forged a friendship in the 1970s, with the Canadian leader bringing his wife and youngest son, Michel, along for a widely covered visit to Cuba in 1976.
Castro was an honourary pall bearer at Pierre Trudeau’s state funeral in Ottawa in 2000, and met Justin Trudeau there. The prime minister recently visited Cuba, and met Castro’s three sons and his brother, the current president. Canada is credited with helping broker talks that led to a thawing of relations between Cuba and the United States under President Barack Obama.
Fidel Castro was 90 years old at the time of his death.