Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Calls Fidel Castro ‘Remarkable Leader,’ Says ‘My Father Was Very Proud To Call Him A Friend’

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement on the passing of former Cuban Revolution leader and President Fidel Castro via his official website Saturday.

“It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President,” the statement begins.

“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.”

Trudeau acknowledged that while Castro was a complicated figure with many enemies, he was nevertheless loved and supported by many people in Cuba and around the world.

“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. “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.”

Castro and Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s father who served as Canada’s 15th prime minister from 1968 to 1979, had friendly relations for many years despite the tensions of the Cold War. Castro served as an honorary pallbearer at the elder Trudeau’s funeral in 2000, according to the Toronto Star.

In the final line’s of Justin Trudeau’s statement on Castro’s passing, he offers condolences to those who loved Castro and high praise for the late communist dictator.

“On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro,” the statement says. “We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.”

Not everyone appreciated Trudeau’s kind words. The prime minister faced criticism from conservative politicians and pundits in Canada and elsewhere.

Maxime Bernier, a conservative member of the House of Commons, was particularly harsh in social media attacks on Trudeau, calling Trudeau’s statement “repugnant” and “disgusting” and attaching memes with lists of atrocities Castro supposedly orchestrated against the Cuban people.

A second Facebook post from Bernier carried a similar message and included the same meme.

“Justin Trudeau… Fidel Castro as a ‘remarkable leader’ is disgusting. Fidel Castro was a dictator despicable who killed and imprisoned thousands of innocent people and exiled for more than a million people and who has kept his poor country with its policies communists absurd, has bullied the freedom of expression, has persecuted homosexuals all this then He was hoarding a fortune and lived in luxury like all dictators who exploit their people.”

Kellie Leitch, another conservative member of the House of Commons, was also critical of Trudeau.

“When given the opportunity to recognize the Castro regime for what it was — brutal, oppressive, and murderous — our Prime Minister instead chose to lionize the man who denied his people basic freedoms for decades,” Leitch wrote in a Facebook post. “Under Castro, Cubans did not enjoy the same freedoms we here in Canada enjoy — freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of assembly, freedom to live your life as you see fit.”

In the U.S., Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), both of whom are Cuban American, criticized Trudeau via Twitter.

“Is this a real statement or a parody?” Rubio asked rhetorically. “Because if this is a real statement from the PM of Canada it is shameful & embarrassing.”

“Disgraceful. Why do young socialists idolize totalitarian tyrants?” Cruz seconded. “Castro, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot — all evil, torturing murderers. .”

Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba in January of 1959 after leading the revolution against the dictator Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar, who ruled the country from 1952 to 1959. Batista himself had come to power by means of a coup.

[Featured Image by Drew Angerer/Getty Images]