Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez is hammering Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, as Sanders sought to defend his Sunday comments regarding Cuba’s literacy program.
In a “60 Minutes” interview, Anderson Cooper confronted Sanders with past comments where Sanders seemed to praise aspects of the Fidel Castro regime, such as its efforts on education and health care.
“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba,” Sanders said.
“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?”
At a Monday evening town hall on CNN, Sanders defended his remarks.
“Truth is truth. All right?” Sanders said.
“I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing. I have been extremely consistent and critical of all authoritarian regimes all over the world, including Cuba, Nicaragua, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia. I happen to believe in democracy, not authoritarianism.”
Enter Rodriguez, who is of Cuban descent.
“I am disgusted with Bernie Sanders. All Cuban Americans, and in fact all Americans, should be disgusted by him and his enablers as well,” Rodriguez said.
“Bernie Sanders says that the Cuban revolution wasn’t all that bad. I have news for Bernie. Everything about Fidel Castro’s murderous takeover of Cuba and the regime he started is and always will be bad. My grandparents on both sides of my family fled Castro’s regime because of political persecution. They and many others lost their family, friends, homes, businesses and their homeland to murderous socialists and communists.”
Sanders’ decision to not unequivocally condemn the Castro regime drew outrage from several Florida Democrats. That includes Rep. Javier E. Fernández, who is competing against Rodriguez in the 2020 contest for Senate District 39.
“As a party are we really going to elect a nominee with a worldview that is this fundamentally flawed? Folks, our party & country deserve better.”
To be clear, Sanders did condemn the authoritarian nature of Castro’s regime.
But Sanders also left out an important part of that literacy program under Castro — it was designed to indoctrinate the public with the government’s ideology. That point was noted by former U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a Twitter post after Sanders’ defense.
“Yeah, Bernie ‘truth is truth’, as u say, and the ‘truth’ is that Fidel Castro was, from the 1st day he illegally took power, a ruthless murderer, a sadistic killer who stripped Cubans of all freedoms,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
“Literacy programs were indoctrination. I lived it as a child. All lies.”
Rodriguez went further Tuesday, arguing that Fernández’s condemnation of Sanders’ remarks didn’t go far enough.
“That’s the best he can muster? He, as a Cuban American himself, should be ashamed,” she argued.
“If my opponent doesn’t stand with Bernie Sanders, he should commit right now to leaving the Democratic Party and Bernie Sanders if he’s the nominee. If he doesn’t, then he stands with Bernie and Bernie stands with the Castro’s.”
Rodriguez went on to assert that Cubans under Castro were “imprisoned, tortured and killed thanks to the ideology that Bernie Sanders has and my opponent simply thinks is uninformed. Shame on him, and shame on any Democrat politician that stands by Bernie Sanders now or ever.”
That prompted a retort from Fernández, where he reiterated his criticism.
“As I have continually said, the comments by Bernie Sanders are foolish, reckless, and wildly insensitive. They are offensive to me, my family, and to every Cuban-American, including thousands who faced repression, imprisonment, and the loss of loved ones at the hands of the cruel and dictatorial Castro regime,” Fernández said Tuesday.
“As Americans, we must stand against all authoritarian governments, as well as any attempt to excuse their cruelty, whether it comes from a Senator in Vermont or in the form of Donald Trump heaping praise on the most brutal, sadistic, and murderous dictators on the planet. I will always hold anyone accountable for their actions, regardless of their party, who willfully supports tyrants. Unfortunately, we are still waiting for Representative Rodriguez to do the same.”
The comments from Rodriguez mirror an attack Republicans are likely to use should Sanders win the 2020 nomination. But it’s also a gross exaggeration of Sanders’ ideology.
Sanders has advocated for democratic socialism, akin to larger governments seen in western Europe. As Sanders made clear in both his remarks Sunday night and his follow-up Monday, he is not advocating for an authoritarian form of government as seen under Castro or the former Soviet Union. Nor is it accurate to say he “stands with the Castros.”
Nevertheless, Rodriguez will certainly jump through hoops to tie Fernández to Sanders should Sanders become the nominee, despite Fernández clearly saying he’s wishing for a different nominee at the top of the ticket.
That’s because SD 39 covers all of Monroe County and parts of Miami-Dade County — including Homestead — which is home to a large Hispanic and Latino population. It’s expected to be one of the closest contests in the state this year.
Sanders performed well with Hispanics and Latinos during Saturday’s Nevada caucus. But the politics of Florida’s population, including many Cubans, are quite different. If Sanders’ remarks continue to ripple, those waves could be felt down the ballot here in 2020.