Bloomberg Rips Sanders Over Castro Remarks, Says His Legacy Is 'Poverty, Firing Squads,' Not 'Literacy Program'

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg denounced Senator Bernie Sanders Monday over comments he made about communist Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro.

Bloomberg was criticizing remarks Sanders made to journalist Anderson Cooper in an interview that aired on 60 Minutes Sunday. A 1985 video clip of Sanders explaining that the Cuban people did not help America in revolting against Castro because he "educated their kids, gave them healthcare, totally transformed their society" was questioned by Cooper, prompting a mixed response from Sanders.

"We're very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but you know, it's unfair to simply say everything is bad," said Sanders. "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?"

Bloomberg shared a clip of the interview on social media, while blasting Sanders for speaking about Castro in way that was not focused solely on condemning his "dark legacy" of human rights abuses in Cuba.

"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 tweeted. "But sure, Bernie, let's talk about his literacy program."

Newsweek reached out to the Sanders campaign for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

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.

But sure, Bernie, let’s talk about his literacy program. pic.twitter.com/3Xqu435uoA

— Mike Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg) February 24, 2020

Sanders was immediately challenged for the remarks by Cooper, who mentioned that Cuba has imprisoned political dissidents. The Vermont senator condemned jailing the political prisoners and insisted that he does not support authoritarian rulers, attempting to draw a distinction between himself and President Donald Trump.

"That's right and we condemn that," Sanders said. "Unlike Donald Trump, let's be clear, I do not think that Kim Jong-un is a good friend, I don't trade love letters with a murdering dictator. Vladimir Putin: not a great friend of mine."

Bloomberg and Sanders
Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Senator Bernie Sanders during a break at the Democratic presidential primary debate in Las Vegas, Nevada on February 19, 2020. Mario Tama/Getty

The comments about the deceased leader of Cuba were quickly seized upon by a number of other Sanders opponents. Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg also took the opportunity hit out at the senator on social media.

"After four years of looking on in horror as Trump cozied up to dictators, we need a president who will be extremely clear in standing against regimes that violate human rights abroad. We can't risk nominating someone who doesn't recognize this," Buttigieg tweeted Monday.

After four years of looking on in horror as Trump cozied up to dictators, we need a president who will be extremely clear in standing against regimes that violate human rights abroad. We can't risk nominating someone who doesn't recognize this. pic.twitter.com/N2JHGzns93

— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) February 24, 2020

The campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden took aim at the comments in a press release on the same day.

"Make no mistake: Bernie Sanders' comments on Fidel Castro are a part of a larger pattern throughout his life to embrace autocratic leaders and governments across the globe," said Biden campaign Senior Adviser Cristóbal Alex. "He seems to have found more inspiration in the Soviets, Sandinistas, Chavistas, and Castro than in America."

Sanders is likely to be further questioned about the comments at Tuesday's Democratic debate in South Carolina. Opponents of Sanders will be especially eager to go on the offensive in light of the senator's landslide victory in the Nevada caucus Saturday, along with polling numbers that continue to cement his status as the frontrunner for the nomination both nationally and in several key states.