Interview with Fidel Castro

Richard Fidler rfidler at
Wed Oct 11 18:32:18 MDT 2000

    <<He [Pierre Trudeau] was an athlete, a nature lover, a good man, a man of
universal ideas, a man of peace, a defender of his country's independence and

Well, this is admittedly a bit embarrassing. I guess that's part of the overhead
you pay when the same personage is head of state, head of the government, head
of the army and head of the party. Pay attention, José. Diplomacy and revolution
make bad bedfellows.... So do diplomacy and historical accuracy.

    <<There is a story that I have not been able to verify and I tried to verify
it, that has been repeated often and they told it to me in Canada, that he tried
to travel to Cuba in 1959 or 1960 - he would have been very young - in a rowing
boat. Just imagine, battling the Gulf Stream, you can already see what spirit he
had. The Americans arrested him and deported him to Canada..>>

I think this is what is called an "urban legend". There is no truth to it, of
course. However, there is a true story about the earlier Trudeau that Comrade
Fidel probably knows about, but would prefer not to relate.

In the early years of the revolution, the Cuban government, usually through the
Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), invited many prominent
political activists from other countries to visit Cuba at Havana's expense to
view its achievements and, it was hoped, publicize them upon their return home.
I, as a university student, was one such guest in the winter of 1963 along with
a New Democratic (Labour) Party member of the British Columbia legislature
(Cedric Cox, later a Maoist) and a number of Communist party leaders and
trade-union supporters. Some of us wrote and lectured about our experiences, and
the Cubans were so pleased with a pamphlet I co-authored that they purchased
5,000 copies for distribution through their foreign embassies!

In 1964 the Cuban ambassador to Canada, as was his custom, consulted local
supporters of the Revolution as to whom to invite for anniversary celebrations
(I can't remember whether it was the 26th of July or January 1). Michel
Chartrand, a very popular and militant labour leader and socialist in Quebec,
put forward the name of a law professor from the University of Montreal, Pierre
Trudeau, who had provided advice and support to a number of unions in struggles
against the conservative nationalist Duplessis regime during the Forties and
Fifties. Trudeau agreed to go. But he stayed in Cuba only a few days and upon
his return refused to speak publicly about the visit, telling people privately
(I was told by Chartrand) that he did not like what he saw. Cuba was too radical
for him. Needless to say, those of us who had promoted Trudeau's visit were
quite disappointed.

A year or so later, of course, Trudeau joined the Liberal party (whose leader,
Lester Pearson, he had castigated only months earlier for agreeing to install
U.S. nuclear warheads on Canadian soil), was elected to Parliament and in 1968
became Prime Minister. Trudeau's main political legacy lies in his unremitting
attempts to subdue Quebec's progressive nationalist upsurge and to stimulate a
counterposed "Canadian" nationalism. Tweaking Uncle Sam's nose over Cuba was a
cheap and domestically popular way to build this image.

This is not to gainsay the value to Cuba of Trudeau's occasional visits in his
prime ministerial capacity, or to deny that the man had a certain chutzpah that
would appeal to someone of Castro's personality. But we'll have to leave it to
others to write the story of Canada-Cuban relations.

It's an interesting interview, though, and thanks to Xxxx Xxxxxx for submitting
it to the list. It helps to explain why Castro's attendance at Trudeau's funeral
was the second biggest story of the day in Canada.

Richard Fidler
rfidler at

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