Justin Trudeau fol­lows father’s his­toric steps

PM will meet Raul Cas­tro as part of trip to fos­ter trade in Cuba, Ar­gentina and Peru


OTTAWA— Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau will re­trace some of his father’s most his­toric foot­steps next week when he trav­els to Cuba and quite pos­si­bly meets an old fam­ily friend — re­tired Cuban leader Fidel Cas­tro.

Of­fi­cially, Trudeau will meet with Cuban Pres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro, who took over his coun­try’s lead­er­ship in 2008 from his brother, the leader of Cuba’s com­mu­nist revo­lu­tion in 1959 and the decades-long an­tag­o­nist to the United States.

Cuba’s am­bas­sador to Canada says there may also be an op­por­tu­nity to visit with Fidel Cas­tro too.

“I think this ques­tion has been worked out, and there is a chance. I don’t know how it will end,” am­bas­sador Julio Gar­men­dia Pena said in an in­ter­view Mon­day. “I’m sure Fidel would like to meet him, and it would be a great op­por­tu­nity for him to say hello to a friend of his father, and for Fidel to greet his clos­est friend’s son as a prime min­is­ter.”

Fidel Cas­tro has main­tained a spo­radic pub­lic pro­file since he for­mally ceded con­trol of the Caribbean is­land coun­try, 135 kilo­me­tres off the south­ern tip of Florida, to his younger brother. He has met world lead­ers, in­clud­ing the vis­it­ing pres­i­dent of Por­tu­gal just weeks ago, and Pope Fran­cis last year, Pena said.

Pierre Trudeau be­came the first NATO leader to visit Cuba when he touched down on Jan. 26, 1976, with his wife, Mar­garet, and his then 4month-old son Michel in tow.

The three-day visit ran­kled some of Canada’s al­lies as Mar­garet Trudeau sang to Cas­tro, while Trudeau at one point ex­horted, “Viva Cas­tro.”

The pho­tos of the visit, es­pe­cially of the bearded father of the com­mu­nist revo­lu­tion hold­ing the prime min­is­ter’s in­fant son, have be­come iconic.

“From a per­sonal point of view, it im­pressed us that he came to Cuba with his fam­ily. He brought his son, who was only 3 months and 26 days old,” Cas­tro told the CBC Na­tional Mag­a­zine in an Oc­to­ber 2000 in­ter­view. “I met that lit­tle baby when he came here when he wasn’t even 4 months old, and he won ev­ery­one’s heart.”

Trudeau’s youngest son died in a Bri­tish Columbia avalanche in 1998.

Two years later, Cas­tro made a stun­ning ap­pear­ance at Pierre Trudeau’s funeral in Montreal, where he also rubbed shoul­ders with for­mer U.S. pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter.

Pena was near the be­gin­ning of his own 41-year ca­reer in Cuba’s for­eign ser­vice when word of Trudeau’s death reached Ha­vana.

Fidel Cas­tro im­me­di­ately dropped ev­ery­thing and made plans to travel to Montreal, he said.

“It was pre­pared in hours. He met Sacha and Justin,” said Pena, re­fer­ring to the cur­rent prime min­is­ter’s younger brother, Alexan­dre.

“I think the fam­ily ap­pre­ci­ated very much the pres­ence of our for­mer pres­i­dent at that sad mo­ment.”

Next week, Trudeau will spend less time in Ha­vana than his father. He is to ar­rive Tues­day night and de­part on Wed­nes­day, said Pena.

Trudeau will meet Raul Cas­tro and other govern­ment of­fi­cials, and will likely tour Old Ha­vana. He may also visit a univer­sity where he can in­ter­act with Cuban youth, Pena said.

The Cuban govern­ment also hopes that the visit will high­light po­ten­tial trade and in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for Cana­dian busi­nesses in Cuba, par­tic­u­larly in the biotech­nol­ogy sec­tor, he added.

Cuba hopes that the de­ci­sion of the Barack Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in De­cem­ber 2014 to re­store diplo­matic ties might make some Cana­dian com­pa­nies a lit­tle less skit­tish about run­ning afoul of the U.S. govern­ment.

Canada’s de­ci­sion to host the se­cret talks be­tween the U.S. and Cuba that led to Obama thaw­ing re­la­tions with Cuba was a piv­otal step in the long process to­ward his coun­try’s “nor­mal­iza­tion” of re­la­tions with the U.S., Pena said.

“Canada served as the con­nec­tion to be able to carry out such im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tions — talks — in a dis­creet man­ner,” Pena said. “Not be- cause of any­thing against the press, but be­cause things could not be achieved if there was a leak.”

Trudeau’s visit to Cuba will be part of a larger trip that also in­cludes stops in Ar­gentina, where he will meet the coun­try’s pres­i­dent, and Peru, where he will par­tic­i­pate in the Asia Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion Lead­ers’ meet­ing.

“Cuba and Ar­gentina are two of our clos­est part­ners in the hemi­sphere. I look for­ward to work­ing with Pres­i­dent Cas­tro and Pres­i­dent Macri to stim­u­late more trade and in­vest­ment with Canada, grow the mid­dle class, and fos­ter closer peo­ple-to-peo­ple ties for the ben­e­fit of all our cit­i­zens,” Trudeau said in a state­ment is­sued Tues­day.


For­mer prime min­is­ter Pierre Trudeau, who met Fidel Cas­tro in 1976, was the first NATO leader to visit Cuba.

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