Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admitted Fidel Castro was a “dictator” but stood by calling him a “legendary” figure after his comments sparked international backlash.
Trudeau, whose father had close ties with Castro (he was an honourary pallbearer at Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s funeral), called him a “legendary revolutionary and orator” after learning of his death Friday night.
But many critics suggested Trudeau missed the opportunity to speak about Castro’s many human rights violations.
Trudeau’s statement even captured some international headlines and was featured in newspapers like the Washington Post, The New York Times and The Guardian.
WATCH: There has been backlash to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement on the death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro calling him a “legendary revolutionary and orator.”
Speaking at the summit of la Francophonie in Madagascar Sunday, Trudeau defended his statement.
While he acknowledged that those affected by Castro’s regime would view things differently, he said his comments were “meant to recognize the passing of a former head of state – a head of state with which Canada had a deep and lasting friendship.”
“As people know … I never shy away from bringing up human rights wherever I go, I highlight our values and the challenges we face and underline the importance of respecting human rights wherever I am, including in Cuba last week,” he said.
When pressed, he did agree that Castro was a “dictator” and he said had “significant concerns around human rights.”
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard also defended the tone of Trudeau’s comments, and said that while historians will debate Castro’s influence, there is no denying the Cuban leader was a giant of the 20th century.
Conservative leadership hopefuls blasted Trudeau for his statement on Saturday; Maxime Bernier called it “repugnant,” while Kellie Leitch said it was as if Trudeau was “reading from a story book.”
Just south of the border, U.S. politicians also weighed in on his statement. Former Republican presidential hopefuls Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz called it an embarrassment and disgraceful respectively.
With a file from the Canadian Press