Opinion

Trudeau’s Effusive Praise for Castro an Assault on Cubans’ Human Rights

PM is not alone; Canadians — including tourists — are supporting a repressive, brutal dictatorship.

By Bill Tieleman 29 Nov 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog.

“While controversial, Darth Vader achieved great heights in space construction and played a formative role in his son’s life.” — Tweet on #TrudeauEulogies mocking Justin Trudeau’s statement on Fidel Castro’s death.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to praise Cuba’s late military dictator Fidel Castro, not to bury him, and has now become an international laughing stock because he refused to acknowledge the obvious — Castro’s horrendous human rights abuses.

Castro literally buried hundreds, some say thousands, of his citizens who dared to oppose his military dictatorship’s 47-year repressive rule. He imprisoned and tortured tens of thousands more while denying basic human and democratic rights.

And more than 1 million Cubans fled to the United States because they were banned from leaving the communist island. Many fled in rickety boats and rafts; thousands died in the attempt.

But Trudeau’s incredibly inept statement on Castro’s death made no reference to any of that, instead glossing over the hard, undeniable truths.

“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, before having the nerve to add he spoke for “all Canadians” who are “mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.”

Like hell.

Now Trudeau is an international laughing stock for deliberately trying to obscure Castro’s brutal record — sparking Twitter hashtag streams like #TrudeauEulogies and #TrudeauEulogy that mock the Liberal leader with humorous fake condolences from the PM on dictators like Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin and Idi Amin along with movie evildoers like Darth Vader, Sauron, Freddy Krueger and Hannibal Lecter.

National Post columnist Andrew Coyne contributed with a tweet on Cambodia’s horrendously murderous dictator: “While a controversial figure, even detractors recognize Pol Pot encouraged renewed contact between city and countryside.”

And U.S. Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, of Cuban descent, was simply stunned. On Twitter he asked: “Is this a real statement or parody? Because if this is a real statement from the PM of Canada it is shameful and embarrassing.”

But Trudeau is sadly not alone among Canadians who willingly turned a blind eye to Castro’s repression of human rights and denial of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom of association. 

Many Canadian leftists, liberals, Liberals, New Democrats, Greens and Conservative politicians, as well as businesses that invested in Cuba and the 1.1 million Canadian tourists who visit the island — nearly 40 per cent of all travellers to Cuba in 2015 — have to some degree financially and politically supported a police state, totalitarian regime.

The excuses are plentiful, starting with the claim Castro provided exceptional health care and education.

And defenders note that he overthrew a corrupt, United States-backed right-wing dictatorship; stood up to the U.S. for its long history of military and subversive intervention against governments whose goals it opposed, leading to coups in Chile, Guatemala, Argentina, Brazil and more; and that Cuba was wrongly boycotted at every level by the U.S. for decades, a counterproductive tactic that made Castro ever more dependent on the USSR and its satellite states.

All true. All deplorable. But two wrongs have never made a right.

It’s the reason I refuse to travel to Cuba — and won’t so long as an undemocratic dictatorship rules there.

Canadians who want to excuse Castro’s very brutal record and keep visiting and investing should read Human Rights Watch’s report on Cuba.

“During his nearly five decades of rule in Cuba, Fidel Castro built a repressive system that punished virtually all forms of dissent, a dark legacy that lives on even after his death,” the group said Nov. 26.

“During Castro’s rule, thousands of Cubans were incarcerated in abysmal prisons, thousands more were harassed and intimidated, and entire generations were denied basic political freedoms. Cuba made improvements in health and education, though many of these gains were undermined by extended periods of economic hardship and by repressive policies.”

“As other countries in the region turned away from authoritarian rule, only Fidel Castro’s Cuba continued to repress virtually all civil and political rights,” wrote José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Castro’s draconian rule and the harsh punishments he meted out to dissidents kept his repressive system rooted firmly in place for decades.”

Ironically, those who still defend Castro here in Canada would have been locked up or worse for expressing any dissenting opinion in Cuba.

And consider Castro’s vicious persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer and transsexual communities until recent years, when Mariel Castro — the daughter of President Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother — became an advocate. (Though her efforts are not universally praised either.)

Or think about what Castro himself said in 1961 when he abolished elections to make Cuba a Communist Party state. “The revolution has no time for elections,” he said. “There is no more democratic government in Latin America than the revolutionary government.”

And Castro’s defenders and apologists should contemplate the words of the late Vaclav Havel, the respected political dissident and playwright when Czechoslovakia was under Soviet communist control who rose to become the first president of the Czech Republic in 1993.

“I cannot go to Cuba to relax on the beach and keep my eyes shut, while dozens of political prisoners are behind bars there,” said Havel in 2006. “We cannot pretend that nothing wrong happens in Cuba. A lot of evil occurs there.”

Indeed it does. And yet Canada is the number one country for tourism to Cuba.

On a simpler basis, consider the fate of brave Cuban democracy blogger Yoani Sánchez, who somehow has managed to continue to post messages about the government and human rights violations despite severe censorship that means no Cuban can read her words, and in a country with almost no internet access.

Amnesty International’s 2010 report on Cuba detailed the regime’s abuse of Sanchez:

“In September (2009), Yoani Sánchez, author of the popular blog Generación Y, was denied an exit visa by the Cuban authorities. She had been due to travel to the U.S.A. to receive the Maria Moors Cabot prize for journalism at Columbia University.

“She was also denied an exit visa to travel to Brazil following an invitation from the Brazilian Senate to present her book at a conference and address the legislature.

“In November, Yoani Sánchez and blogger Orlando Luis Pardo were forced into a car by state security agents and beaten and threatened before being released. The attackers told Yoani Sánchez ‘this is the end of it.’”

After Castro’s death, Sánchez posted an ominous response.

“Still many in Havana have not reacted, the streets are empty in my building.  Silence. The silence extends, it is dawn, but the fear is felt in the air. Harsh days are coming,” Sánchez wrote.

Canadians, many of whom rightly boycotted repressive military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, South Africa and other countries to demand democracy and human rights, should end their support for Raul Castro’s regime, which encourages the government’s resistance to change.

And Trudeau — who has now been forced to acknowledge the emperor has no clothes and that Castro was indeed a dictator — should apologize and start supporting the courageous Cubans who peacefully fight for democracy, instead of praising a pariah.  [Tyee]

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