Justin Trudeau’s visit to Cuba decidedly different than father’s


From start to finish, in substance and in tone, Justin Trudeau’s trip here as prime minister had only faint echoes of Pierre Elliott’s exuberant welcome 40 years ago.


Tonda Maccharles, The Toronto Star


HAVANA — The journey of two prime ministers named Trudeau to the windswept shores of Cuba could not have been more different.


From start to finish, in substance and in tone, Justin Trudeau’s trip here as prime minister had only faint echoes of Pierre Elliott’s exuberant welcome 40 years ago.


The biggest contrast: the aging commandant Fidel Castro declined a meeting with the 44-year-old son of his old friend, Pierre, even though he had met the Vietnamese leader just the day before.


Was it a snub? It was certainly a surprise to Cuban and other foreign correspondents in Havana, who have seen Castro, 90, meet a string of foreign leaders in recent months. There was as always no explanation, only hints that Fidel’s health may not have been up to it.


The prime minister did meet three of Fidel Castro’s sons for the first time in what Canadian officials said was a “very warm meeting.” The sons gave him a photo album of his father’s historic 1976 trip when he came with young wife Margaret and infant son Michel in tow — delighting an enraptured Fidel and charming this island nation.


And Fidel’s brother, Raul, his successor as Cuban president, went out of his way to demonstrate the bonds of friendship still run deep.


Raul Castro staged an intimate official dinner for Trudeau and his wife, Sophie, at the Restaurante Café del Oriente in a plaza in the colonial heart of old Havana — a gesture the Cubans say is a rare departure from the dry formal state dinners at the government palace.


They dined on soup and chicken, and the Cuban president brought a special gift, a copy of Pierre Trudeau’s 1976 speech that ended with a controversial flourish hailing the Communist leader: “Viva Cuba and the Cuban people. Viva President Fidel Castro! Viva the Cuban-Canadian friendship.”


Castro signed it, gave it to Justin Trudeau, and hugged him.


Trudeau insisted his return here — his fourth trip after three past personal visits including once with his younger brother, Michel, now deceased — was partly a “sentimental” journey hitched to government business, and a “true pleasure.”


Invited to reflect on what it was like to follow in his parents’ footsteps, Trudeau said he was “touched and overwhelmed” but said only it was unfortunate he couldn’t have sat down “with Fidel.” Earlier he praised the chance to reconnect with “my friend, Raul.”


Even the Cubans, however, had lost track of who the young Trudeau before them was.


“A couple of times I have to admit I didn’t correct people who they showed me pictures of me when I was here as a baby because it was actually my young brother,” Trudeau said Wednesday.


For the most part, he cast it as primarily a nation-to-nation relationship. “You can tell from everyone I’ve met that there is a tremendous level of respect for Canada and Canadians.”


Canada and Mexico were the only countries in the Western hemisphere to not cut off diplomatic ties with Cuba after the revolution.


Still this was a decidedly different visit than that blockbuster 1976 trip by his father.



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