Trade is very important and so is getting along with other leaders, but there are obligations when you are the leader of Canada. When you are talking to other leaders who have the kind of track record Cuba has with it’s people, you must, at the very least, discuss human rights issues.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had a homecoming, of sorts, travelling to Cuba this week to visit the regressive island dictatorship.
Trudeau’s father, former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, famously visited the authoritarian regime in the midst of Cold War tensions in 1976.
Despite Fidel Castro’s adversarial aggression towards the West, despite his cruel policies and grave human rights abuses, and despite his stockpile of Russian weaponry pointed directly at targets in the United States, Pierre Trudeau was willing to look the other way and forge a lasting friendship.
Trudeau the Elder shamelessly took part in the communist pageantry of the day. Dictators love to force large displays of public affection; in Havana, 250,000 repressed souls showed up, likely through threat of force, to cheer on the Canadian leader.
It was a low moment in Canadian history. In the battle between liberal democracy and forced communism, Trudeau was openly flirting with – if not outright celebrating – the wrong side of history.
Pierre Trudeau gave legitimacy to a regime that deserved no such honour.
And four decades later, many are praising Justin Trudeau for rekindling the “special relationship” between the Trudeaus and the Castros.
Fidel Castro has long been incapacitated but – in true dictator form – he handed power to his brother Raul Castro in 2008. Unlike other military dictatorships, Cuba doesn’t even bother holding fake elections. The Castros rule Cuba, and that’s non-negotiable.
Raul, like Fidel before him, governs with an iron fist. Political activists are routinely jailed, independent journalists are intimidated and arrested, and the average person lives in abject poverty.
Some Canadians might be surprised to learn about the misery and despotism in Cuba. Despite its problems, Cuba is an incredibly popular destination for Canadian snowbirds and vacationers.
Cuba welcomes about 1.3 million Canadians each year – about 40% of all tourists to Cuba.
Canadian visitors should be aware, however, that the Cuban military owns and controls large swaths of the tourism industry.
One military-run corporation, Gaviota, owns one-third of all hotels in Cuba. That hotel chain hosted more than half of all Canadian visitors last year.
When Canadians spend money in Cuba, they are not helping to bring wealth and opportunity to the Cuban people. They are inadvertently, but directly, lining the coffers of Cuba’s military.
And as the military benefits from all those Canadian tourists, the housekeeper cleaning hotel rooms takes home less than $20 per month.
The real Cuba isn’t a tropical heaven. It is a despotic hellhole – imprisoning thousands, oppressing millions and propping up the privileged few.
That is the Cuba that Pierre Trudeau admired. That is the Cuba Justin Trudeau visited this week.
Pierre Trudeau brought shame to Canada’s long history of rights and freedoms when he lauded the communist dictatorship in Cuba.
Justin Trudeau had an opportunity to make up for his father’s mistake. He could have visited a political prisoner. He could have stood up for human rights. He could have told Raul Castro it was time to open the economy and allow the Cuban people to be free.
Instead, Justin Trudeau shook hands with the elites in the Revolutionary Palace and took a dictator-approved scenic tour of the island. He ignored the plight of millions of people living in misery.
When it comes to Trudeau’s attitude towards dictators, it seems the apple does not fall far from the tree.