Media End Castro Love Affair to Hit Bernie

Newspapers also uncritically parroted Cuban propaganda about Castro's literacy programs

Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro / Getty Images
February 25, 2020

Democratic presidential frontrunner Bernie Sanders has come under fire from the media for defending Fidel Castro, but some of the news outlets criticizing Sanders offered similar praise for Castro in their 2016 obituaries for the Cuban dictator.

After Sanders called criticism of the Communist regime "unfair" and hyped Castro's "literacy program" in a 60 Minutes interview, the Washington Post wrote sarcastically that "finding something positive to say about an authoritarian leader" was one of Sanders's "greatest hits," giving a rundown of all the times the socialist Vermont senator has praised dictatorial Communist governments.

But the Post's obituary for Castro claimed that "among Mr. Castro’s more successful efforts were universal health care and the near-eradication of illiteracy throughout Cuba. Thousands of classrooms were built in rural areas, and the country’s literacy rate grew to more than 95 percent. There were more physicians and hospital beds per capita in Cuba than in the United States."

Despite parroting the Castro regime's propaganda about its literacy programs, a week later the Post gave Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau "Three Pinocchios" for claiming Castro made "significant improvements to the education and health care" of Cuba. Fact-checker Glenn Kessler correctly noted Cuba was making huge strides in literacy before Castro took power and that Trudeau had "accept[ed] outdated Cuban government spin as current fact."

The New York Times obituary depicted Castro as a "fiery apostle of revolution" who "defied the United States for nearly half a century" and "[bedeviled] 11 American presidents." The Times also credited the Castro regime with "improving education and health care for many Cubans" and noted that "admirers from around the world, including some Americans, were impressed with the way that health care and literacy in Cuba had improved."

The Los Angeles Times heralded Castro's "impressive progress in literacy, higher education and health care" and wrote that "university enrollment was higher than in many more prosperous countries," adding that "Castro's 'literacy brigades' helped lift the quality of life in the countryside."

The Guardian obituary praised Castro's "huge personal charm and charisma, and his political genius," while another headline proclaimed that Cuba's literacy rate and health care were "Castro's legacy and the envy of many nations." The latter article cited defenders who called Castro "a leader whose enlightened and practical approach to social care provided Cuba with enviable health and education systems."

Media coverage of the death of Castro frequently praised Cuba's education and health care, following the lead of the Obama administration, which sought to end long-standing sanctions against the regime. The White House statement on Fidel Castro's death failed to condemn the Communist regime, stating only that "history will ... judge" his tenure.

Among the few media outlets to place Cuba's literacy rates in context was the Miami Herald, whose readership is largely Cuban-American. The Herald noted that "literacy before Castro already stood at 76 percent, the second-highest in Latin America after Argentina. Under the Castro government, many books are banned, history textbooks carry only the government's version and many recent university graduates say they see no future at home."