Trudeau Changes Tack and Condemns Violent Repression in Cuba

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sharpened his tone against the Cuban government, denouncing the arrests of hundreds of demonstrators calling for change after 62 years of communist rule.

“We’re deeply concerned by the violent crackdown on protests by the Cuban regime,” Trudeau said after making an aerospace announcement in Montreal on Thursday. “We condemn the arrests and repression by the authorities of peaceful demonstrators. Cubans have the right to express themselves and to have their voices heard.”

The Canadian leader faced criticism for taking a softer line earlier this week on the regime’s swift moves to quell dissent. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, Trudeau’s main rival in an election campaign expected to begin within weeks, quickly seized on Trudeau’s earlier comments to accuse him of equivocating on the matter.

Trudeau Changes Tack and Condemns Violent Repression in Cuba

Trudeau’s change in tone brings the government’s language on the Caribbean nation more in line with its approach to other authoritarian regimes in the region, like Venezuela. While Canada has issued sanctions against officials in the oil-rich South American nation and publicly backed opposition leader Juan Guaido’s attempt to oust Nicolas Maduro, it has until now refrained from forceful criticism of the government in Havana.

Canada never broke ties with Cuba after the 1959 revolution swept Fidel Castro to power, and almost brought the U.S. and Russia to nuclear war in the early 1960s. Before the pandemic hit, Canada sent more tourists to the island than any other country. Canadian companies like nickel miner Sherritt International Corp. operate there despite the U.S. embargo.

Trudeau’s father was a personal friend of Castro’s, and the prime minister’s praise for the former Cuban president upon his death in 2016 drew viral mockery and international criticism.

On Tuesday, in response to a question about the unprecedented protests, Trudeau said Canada “has always stood in friendship with the Cuban people” and would “continue to be there to support Cubans in their desire for greater peace, greater stability and greater voice in how things are going.” He declined to directly address or criticize the state’s heavy handed response, which included a wave of arrests and an attempt to shut down social media.

“Actions and words matter, especially when it is politically inconvenient to do so,” O’Toole said in a statement before Trudeau spoke Thursday. “The Cuban people cannot afford Canada’s silence while they fight for freedom.”

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