Clifford Orwin is a professor of political science and senior fellow of Massey College at the University of Toronto.
There was only one (and a novel) respect in which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's ill-conceived eulogy of Fidel Castro enhanced Canada's status in the world. It inspired responses by other Canadians on social media that did full justice to its absurdity. You can find them at #trudeaueulogies. They all begin, "while a controversial figure," and proceed to rehabilitate the monster in question.
Contrary to the implication of the funsters, Fidel Castro wasn't a Pol Pot or even an Admiral Tojo. Instead he was, as Mr. Trudeau noted admiringly, Cuba's "longest serving President," a distinction facilitated by his never having held a free election. (So if his people did feel, as Mr. Trudeau claimed, "a deep and lasting affection for [Castro]," he was evidently too modest to presume on it.) And, yes, "he served the Cuban people for almost half a century," if his imposition of Communist political repression and a stifling Communist economy qualifies as serving them. As for his "tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people," well, the personal fortune of $900-million (U.S.) that Forbes has ascribed to him is indeed much smaller than Russian President Vladimir Putin's.
That the Castro regime was politically repressive requires no elaboration: for details just peruse Amnesty International's reports on the country. Economically Cuba functioned as well as other command economies (now mercifully extinct everywere else but North Korea). Having freed his country from the ambit of "American imperialism" Fidel Castro became a loyal client of the Soviet variety, sending Cuban boys to die in Russia's African wars. Having confiscated U.S. property, thereby incurring an economic boycott, he depended on Soviet subsidies to sustain an inefficient sugar industry from which Cuba never successfully diversified. Of her neighbours almost all are wealthier than Cuba both absolutely and relatively than they were in 1959. Ten years ago some Old Leftist neighbours of ours took their children there so they could vacation in a socialist society. They were distressed to notice that the local economy ran entirely on U.S. dollars, and that the only obvious occupation besides tourism was prostitution.
Yes, Mr. Trudeau acknowledged that Fidel Castro was a "controversial figure." Not surprisingly, he credited his "significant contributions to the health care and education of his island nation." These were the bright spots of the Castro regime. But why go on to flatter the 85-year-old Raul Castro (whom it was "a real honour to meet ... during my recent visit to Cuba") and his gerontocracy of apparatchiks?
Why issue a statement implying Canada's indifference alike to basic political and religious freedoms and to basic economic ones? One that included not a word of encouragement for the transition to a democratic Cuba? Why be any more fulsome than Barack Obama and John Kerry, authors of America's ongoing rapprochement with Cuba, whose statements, if they refrained from blaming Fidel Castro, pointedly refrained from praising him?
Some Canadians have recently expressed the hope that Canada might assume a larger place in the world. With America in retreat from its global commitments, first under Mr. Obama and soon under Donald Trump, they look to Canada as a beacon of international engagement. If that is our goal, this wasn't the way to go about it. When Mr. Trump is rightly taxed for his coziness with Mr. Putin, should Mr. Trudeau follow suit by coddling the Castros?
Whatever new world is aborning out there, whatever its problems and perils, whatever old or new forms of injustice it may harbour, it won't belong to the Castros. Not anywhere else, and not in Cuba either. Communism approaches its death throes on the island; the U.S. made its deal with the devil of the moribund regime in the hope of hurrying it along. Mr. Trudeau's statement makes it sound as if such an outcome would surprise him: Fidel is dead, long live Raul. His subsequent defence, that he has always championed human rights and did so privately when he visited Cuba, merely sharpens the question of why he missed the opportunity to raise them now.
After Mr. Trudeau fires his speechwriter, he should take a long look at himself. Yes, he is a Trudeau, whose father consistently whitewashed not only Fidel Castro but (much worse) Mao. Justin Trudeau just missed his chance to jump this particular family ship. Allegiance to the best in one's heritage is admirable; remaining mired in the worst is not.