Castro-Loving Congresswoman Signs On as California Co-Chair for Kamala Harris

Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro / Getty Images
February 14, 2019

The Kamala Harris campaign announced Thursday that Rep. Barbara Lee (D.), a far-left California congresswoman known for her relationship with deceased Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, would be its co-chair.

The endorsement from Lee, who has represented one of the most liberal districts in the country for the last two decades, is seen as a big win for Harris and her effort to win support from the liberal base of her party, CNN reported on Thursday. Lee has previously held leadership roles on both the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The Oakland congresswoman was also one of the leaders in the push to normalize relations with Cuba and Fidel Castro, a brutal communist dictator whose 2016 death she mourned.

"I was very sad for the Cuban people," Lee said. "He led a revolution in Cuba that led social improvements for his people."

Lee has been cultivating her relationship with Cuba since her first trip to the Communist island in 1977 and eventually won the praise of Castro himself. In a 2009 memo titled "Reflections by Comrade Fidel," he praised Lee's "political courage," not just for her efforts to reach out to him but also for being "the sole vote against Bush’s genocidal war in Iraq."

"It was unbeatable proof of political courage," Fidel wrote in the memo, which Lee gave to the San Francisco Chronicle for a piece on her relationship with Castro. "For that, she deserves every honor."

Lee once praised Castro for rationing access to gasoline, arguing that it forced his people to increase their use of bicycles, and "their rates of diabetes and high blood pressure went down."

Lee's reaction to Castro's death was out of the ordinary for members on either side of the aisle including her Democratic colleague Nancy Pelosi, who represents Lee's neighboring district in San Francisco.

"After decades under Fidel’s doctrine of oppression and antagonism, there is hope that a new path for Cuba is opening," Pelosi said in a statement on Castro's death. "Generations of Cuban political prisoners, democracy activists and families suffered under Fidel Castro’s rule. In their name, we will continue to press the Cuban regime to embrace the political, social and economic dreams of the Cuban people."

Harris didn't deliver a statement on Castro's death. In 2017, she signed on as a cosponsor of the Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act.