Bernie Sanders Condemned by Florida Democratic Lawmakers, 2020 Candidates Over Castro Comments

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont faced criticism from Democratic lawmakers and some of his fellow 2020 candidates Monday over remarks he made about Fidel Castro's regime in an interview that aired the previous night.

During Sunday evening's episode of 60 Minutes on CBS, Anderson Cooper played a clip from the 1980s showing Sanders discussing some elements of Castro's regime. "Here he is explaining why the Cuban people didn't rise up and help the U.S. overthrow Cuban leader Fidel Castro," Cooper said, before playing the video. "He educated their kids, gave them health care, totally transformed the society," a younger Sanders said in the clip.

When asked to respond, the progressive Democratic presidential candidate said, "We're very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but you know, it's unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know? When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?"

Sanders' remarks quickly drew heavy fire from Republicans, who accused the senator of praising Castro's authoritarian regime. Although Sanders asserted that he "opposed" the authoritarian regime, some Democratic lawmakers from Florida also condemned the senator for praising elements of Castro's regime.

In a tweet Monday, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell called Sanders' remarks "absolutely unacceptable."

"As the first South American immigrant member of Congress who proudly represents thousands of Cuban Americans, I find Senator Bernie Sanders' comments on Castro's Cuba absolutely unacceptable," she wrote. "The Castro regime murdered and jailed dissidents, and caused unspeakable harm to too many South Florida families. To this day, it remains an authoritarian regime that oppresses its people, subverts the free press, and stifles a free society."

As the first South American immigrant member of Congress who proudly represents thousands of Cuban Americans, I find Senator Bernie Sanders’ comments on Castro’s Cuba absolutely unacceptable.

— Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (@DebbieforFL) February 24, 2020

Florida Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy denounced Sanders' comments as "insulting to thousands of Floridians." "Whether the subject is Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Israel or other foreign policy challenges, @SenSanders has consistently taken positions that are wrong on the merits and will alienate many Florida voters now and in the general election if he is nominated," she tweeted.

.@SenSanders comments on Fidel Castro are ill-informed & insulting to thousands of Floridians. Castro was a murderous dictator who oppressed his own people. His “literacy program” wasn’t altruistic; it was a cynical effort to spread his dangerous philosophy & consolidate power.

— Stephanie Murphy (@SMurphyCongress) February 24, 2020

Her fellow Florida Democratic congresswoman, Donna Shalala, also condemned Sanders. "I'm hoping that in the future, Senator Sanders will take time to speak to some of my constituents before he decides to sing the praises of a murderous tyrant like Fidel Castro," she tweeted.

I'm hoping that in the future, Senator Sanders will take time to speak to some of my constituents before he decides to sing the praises of a murderous tyrant like Fidel Castro. https://t.co/Iwvmay9LOH pic.twitter.com/KT9sQ0pfkh

— Donna E. Shalala (@DonnaShalala) February 24, 2020

The criticism from Florida Democrats demonstrates their fears that Sanders' comments could effectively alienate voters in the swing state, which contains a large population of Cuban-Americans.

Sanders
Democratic Presidential Candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during a press conference at his New Hampshire campaign headquarters on February 06, 2020 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Justin Sullivan/Getty

Two 2020 Democratic candidates, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Vice President Joe Biden, also slammed the progressive candidate, who recently won the Nevada caucuses by a large margin.

"Fidel Castro left a dark legacy of forced labor camps, religious repression, widespread poverty, firing squads, and the murder of thousands of his own people," Bloomberg's campaign tweeted. "But sure, Bernie, let's talk about his literacy program."

In a statement, Cristóbal Alex, an Biden campaign adviser, called Sanders' "willingness to look past Cuba's human rights violations... not just dangerous... [but also] deeply offensive to the many people of Florida, New Jersey, and across the country that have fled political persecution and sought refuge in the United States."

Newsweek reached out to Sanders' campaign.