Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s effusive praise for Fidel Castro in the wake of the Cuban dictator’s death created outrage and panic among federal bureaucrats engaged in damage control
According to Access to Information documents released by the Toronto Star on Friday, policy and communication staffers in the foreign affairs department, privy council office and prime minister’s office all attempted to divert world attention from Trudeau’s insistence that Castro was “a larger than life leader” whose passing engendered “deep sorrow” for him, whose father, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, called the leader a friend.
Trudeau’s eulogy on Nov. 26 that barely acknowledged any controversy surrounding Castro, proclaimed that he was a “legendary revolutionary and orator” who “made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.”
He even claimed, “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,'” only allowing that the Cuban tyrant was a “controversial figure.”
The missive was apparently deemed so toxic that foreign affairs officials discouraged Canadian embassies and diplomatic missions from distributing Trudeau’s statement to foreign governments or media.
“U.S. missions are looking for media lines on Fidel Castro,” read a typical email from Nov. 28 as the faux pas sunk in.
That didn’t prevent Trudeau’s remarks from receiving wide dissemination and even wider ridicule on social media, where a Twitter hashtag of “trudeaueulogies” was posted for days collecting disdainful remarks.
“Is this a real statement or a parody? Because if this is a real statement from the PM of Canada it is shameful & embarrassing,” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said on Twitter.
Thousands of politicians, journalists and regular tweeters joined the conversation, joking how Trudeau could also praise the political careers of notorious figures like Adolf Hitler or Osama bin Laden.
While the world mocked Trudeau, the prime minister’s staffers were working overtime to prepare talking points for diplomats around the world, including the Canadian ambassador in Washington, which they could use “in responding to criticisms of PM Trudeau’s press release,” a Nov. 28 email reads.
The talking points noted that Castro was “loved and hated,” while suggesting that the “PM acknowledged Castro was a controversial figure he offered an obituary to recognize the passing of a former head of state, a state with which Canada has a deep and long lasting relationship.”
Just to be safe, the communications fixers added: “But make no mistake, the PM has never shied away from raising the issue of human rights in Cuba and abroad.”
That wasn’t enough for David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., who decided to amend the official statement with a line about Castro’s “irredeemable failings in human rights.”
The communications staffers also prepared what are known as “Questions and Answers” that are written to assist government officials in anticipating and preparing for difficult queries from the media.
At the head of the list was the question “Why did the PM statement not address any of the controversial aspects of Fidel Castro’s leadership?” The suggested answer was that Trudeau had “recognized that Fidel Castro was an influential and controversial figure.”
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