The Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida defended presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and slammed party leadership for its characterization of Sanders’ remarks about Fidel Castro.
“Today, Florida Democratic Party leadership revealed their hand when issuing a statement critiquing presidential front-runner Senator Bernie Sanders for his comments on Cuba,” reads a statement from the group.
The move comes after a day of widespread condemnation of a Sanders interview with 60 Minutes aired Sunday night. In it, Sanders defended comments he made in the 1980s praising certain actions of the Castro regime.
“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but you know, it’s unfair to say everything is bad,” said Sanders, in the recent interview. “When Fidel Castro came in office, he had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing even though Fidel Castro did it?”
Florida Republicans pounced, with Gov. Ron DeSantis accusing Sanders of attempting to “whitewash the brutality of the Castro dictatorship.”
But the most notable scorn came from Democrats, particularly in South Florida.
The Progressive Caucus took particular issue with a statement from Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo.
Florida Democrats “condemn dictators destroying democracies in the world, and stand in solidarity with people fleeing dictatorships in Cuba, Venezuela & Nicaragua,” Rizzo tweeted. “Candidates need to understand our immigrant communities’ stories as well as provide solutions to issues Floridians are facing.”
The Progressive Caucus read that as a direct swipe at Sanders.
“Although not mentioned by name, this was clearly a hit piece aimed at the leading candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination.”
The group said party leaders balking at Sanders ignore the more important part of his statement.
“In a recent ‘60 Minutes’ interview, Sanders condemned the past authoritarian leadership of Cuba but also praised their ‘massive literacy program.’”
The liberal organization pointed to footage of President Barack Obama, made not in a campaign interview but while trying to normalize relations with Cuba. “In Cuba, you’ve made great progress in educating young people,” Obama said in video widely shared by Sanders supporters. “Every child in Cuba gets a basic education. That’s a huge improvement from where it was.”
The Progressive Caucus suggested an anti-Sanders agenda in selective outrage.
“Chairperson Rizzo and the FDP did not display the same indignation when President Obama made similar comments in 2016,” the statement concludes. “The Florida Democratic Party should be more careful not to put their thumb on the scale in this race. They will have only themselves to blame if voters don’t turn out for our candidates in November.”