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Sanders Takes Some Florida Heat On Castro Comments

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“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad,” Sanders said in a “60 Minutes” interview with Anderson Cooper. “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?”

When pressed on Castro’s unsavory tendency to imprison political dissidents, Sanders backed off a bit, saying that he “condemns” that behavior, and juxtaposed himself to President Donald Trump’s embrace of authoritarians like Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Sanders has a history of pointing out good aspects of otherwise brutal authoritarian regimes, like low health care costs in the 1988 Soviet Union and China’s efforts to eradicate poverty last year.

But, as reactions from Floridian lawmakers show, Sanders may have the most to worry about stemming from his many positive comments about Castro and the revolution.

Florida, the perennial swing state and general election bugaboo, has a large and influential Cuban-American population that Sanders wants to avoid alienating. Accordingly, Sunshine State lawmakers lashed out at the comments.

“Sen. Sanders has clearly and consistently criticized Fidel Castro’s authoritarianism and condemned his human rights abuses, and he’s simply echoing President Obama’s acknowledgment that Cuba made progress, especially in education,” spokesperson Kolby Lee told TPM in an email.

Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL):

Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL):

Former mayor of Tallahassee:

Sanders’ fellow presidential hopefuls also got in on the action.

“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,” Buttigieg wrote on Twitter. “We can’t risk nominating someone who doesn’t recognize this.” He then translated the tweet into Spanish.

Cristóbal Alex, senior adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden, went so far as to imply that Sanders lacks patriotism.

“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,” he said in a statement. “He seems to have found more inspiration in the Soviets, Sandinistas, Chavistas and Castro than in America.

About The Author

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Kate Riga is a news writer for Talking Points Memo based in New York City. Before joining TPM, Kate was the political reporter for The Southampton Press. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and a native of Philadelphia.