Never speak ill of the dead

December 1, 2016   ·   0 Comments

WE DON’T ENTIRELY agree with those who have been lambasting Justin Trudeau for his statement issued Friday after he learned of the death of Fidel Castro, known just about everywhere as a communist despot who never lived up to his promise to have free elections in Cuba, the island he controlled for half a century.

The statement expressed his “deep sorrow” about the death and described Castro as a “legendary revolutionary and orator” who had made significant improvements to Cuba’s education and health-care systems.

Critics, among them Federal Conservative leader Rona Ambrose and Tory leadership hopefuls Lisa Raitt, Maxime Bernier and Kellie Leitch, were quick to denounce the statement, noting correctly the Castro regime’s human rights abuses, his banning of political parties, and his failure to call free elections or permit anything approaching a free press.

It would seem that the Prime Minister subscribes to the Latin phrase De mortuis nil nisi bene, usually translated as “Never speak ill of the dead.”

Sigmund Freud mentioned the phrase in Thoughts for the Times on War and Death (1915), in the second part of the essay, “Our Attitude Towards Death”, saying: “We assume a special attitude towards the dead, something almost like admiration for one who has accomplished a very difficult feat. We suspend criticism of him, overlooking whatever wrongs he may have done, and issue the command, De mortuis nil nisi bene: we act as if we were justified in singing his praises at the funeral oration, and inscribe only what is to his advantage on the tombstone. This consideration for the dead, which he really no longer needs, is more important to us than the truth, and, to most of us, certainly, it is more important than consideration for the living.”

At Antananarivo, Madagascar, where he was leading the Canadian delegation to the summit of la Francophonie, Mr. Trudeau acknowledged that Castro was a dictator, but insisted that did not mean it was inappropriate to acknowledge his achievements at the time of his death.

“He certainly was a polarizing figure and there certainly were significant concerns around human rights,” he said Sunday. “That’s something that I’m open about and highlighted, but on the passing of his death I expressed a statement that highlighted the deep connection between the people of Canada and the people of Cuba.”

The Trudeau statement mentioned that his father Pierre “was very proud to call him a friend.”

However, the younger Trudeau has opted to stay away rather than reciprocate Fidel Castro’s attendance at Pierre’s funeral in Montreal 16 years ago. Canada will be represented at the Castro funeral by Governor General David Johnston.

To us a matter far more important than the inappropriateness of statements following the death of a political leader is the potential consequences of the event.

Although Raúl Castro has been in charge of Cuba since formally assuming power in 2008, it appears that he has spent his first 85 years in his elder brother’s shadow, and has no doubt consulted Fidel about the modest changes he has made, the most important one being the re-opening of diplomatic relations with the United States two years ago as part of an agreement that ironically sees the first commercial flights by U.S. airlines to Cuba taking off this week.

A cautious pragmatist who says he will retire in 2018 and now faces the looming presidency of Donald Trump, he would certainly be well-advised to consider having his successor picked by the people in an open election that, unlike this month’s in the U.S., would see the win go to the candidate with the most votes.

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