Sanders’ comments in praise of Fidel Castro draw ire of Florida Democrats

Bernie Sanders’ professed fondness for authoritarian communists has not been well-received by Democrats further down the ballot in the state of Florida, the Daily Caller reports.

“[Sanders] made more than a mistake, it’s what he believes. And it’s unacceptable to our community,” Florida Democrat Rep. Donna Shalala said of the Vermont senator.

Shalala was responding to Sanders’ recent, qualified praise of Fidel Castro. The senator’s comments have become a point of attack for his Democratic rivals as the party establishment scrambles to stop the socialist from winning the presidential nomination.

Sanders slammed over Castro praise

Sanders has long said that his model for socialism is a country like Denmark — a liberal democracy with a large public safety net — rather than repressive regimes like Cuba and the Soviet Union. But his past comments on the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, the USSR, and Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba have left uncertainty about his political ideals that his Democratic competitors are eager to exploit. With the zeal of a true believer, Sanders has refused to disavow Castro and even issued measured praise for his policies as recently as Sunday.

“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad,” Sanders told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “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’ comments highlighted the fact that one of his self-described strengths — his “consistency” — may also be a vulnerability for a Democrat who has spoken about Latin American dictators in rosy terms over the years. Asked in the 1980s why the Cuban people didn’t rise up against Castro, his response was that he “educated their kids, gave them health care, totally transformed the society, you know?”

Comments like that have Florida Democrats rattled and concerned about the ripple effects of a socialist leading the ticket in November. Responding to his latest remarks, Shalala said that Sanders was out of touch with Cuban, Venezuelan, and Nicaraguan immigrants in Florida who fled socialist governments, according to Grabien:

He hasn’t been down here to talk to residents, to understand how our community — not just the Cuban community, but the Venezuelan community, the Nicaraguan community — feel about socialism and about communism.

Criticism mounts

Shalala’s concerns about Sanders were echoed by Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel–Powell, who called his comments “unacceptable.” But it’s not just a matter of taste.

The prospect of Sanders’ nomination has the party establishment and liberal media terrified of losing control of the Democratic party — a scenario that seems increasingly likely after Sanders crushed his competition in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday. Although Tuesday night’s debate in South Carolina was feisty all around, the Vermont socialist was clearly the top target, as he was pressed to defend his comments on Cuba and his radical policies.

Sanders vehemently insisted that his policies are not “radical” and that only a “grassroots” revolution can inspire the enthusiasm needed to defeat Donald Trump. He also pointed out that Barack Obama had positive things to say about Cuba’s communist government. But Sanders’ rivals said that his agenda is too expensive and that his socialist politics would be a liability further down on the ballot.

“We’re not going to win these critical House and Senate races if people in those races have to explain why the nominee of the Democratic party is telling people to look at the bright side of the Castro regime,” said Pete Buttigieg.

But Sanders, who has spent his life raging against the establishment from the fringes, seemed to relish all of the attention. “I’m hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight. I wonder why,” Sanders joked.

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