Politics

Florida Democrats Slam Bernie’s Castro Comments as ‘Unacceptable,’ ‘Insulting’

Sanders's comments defending Castro could alienate the swing state's substantial Cuban-American population

Reps. Donna Shalala (L) and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell / Getty Images

Three Florida Democratic congresswomen slammed presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) over his comments defending the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

"I'm hoping that in the future, Senator Sanders will take time to speak to some of my constituents before he decides to sing the praises of a murderous tyrant like Fidel Castro," tweeted Miami congresswoman and former HHS secretary Donna Shalala, along with a gif of a cat reading "C'mon, bro." Shalala's remarks came after Sanders called criticism of the communist dictator "unfair" on an interview with CBS's 60 Minutes, praising Castro's "massive literacy program."

Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D., Fla.) seconded Shalala's criticism. "I find Senator Bernie Sanders's comments on Castro’s Cuba absolutely unacceptable," she tweeted.

"The Castro regime murdered and jailed dissidents, and caused unspeakable harm to too many South Florida families," the Miami congresswoman continued. "To this day, it remains an authoritarian regime that oppresses its people, subverts the free press, and stifles a free society."

Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D., Fla.) called Sanders's comments "ill-informed & insulting to thousands of Floridians. Castro was a murderous dictator who oppressed his own people. His ‘literacy program' wasn’t altruistic; it was a cynical effort to spread his dangerous philosophy & consolidate power."

"Whether the subject is Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Israel or other foreign policy challenges, [Sanders] has consistently taken positions that are wrong on the merits and will alienate many Florida voters now and in the general election if he is nominated," Murphy warned.

Reliable figures are difficult given the severe press restrictions in Cuba, but experts estimate Castro is responsible for the deaths of somewhere between 35,000 and 141,000 Cubans.

All three freshmen congresswomen represent districts with substantial Cuban-American populations. Each of the districts elected Republicans in 2014 and 2016. Murphy endorsed Michael Bloomberg for president in January and became a national co-chair of his campaign. Shalala and Mucarsel-Powell have not endorsed a candidate.

Sanders told 60 Minutes that while he opposed Cuban authoritarianism, "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 before Sanders's latest Castro comments, the Miami Herald reported that the socialist candidate has zero congressional endorsements from the crucial swing state of Florida and has met a frosty reception from Miami Democrats in particular. "I'm seriously considering endorsing another candidate, that's my answer to you," Mucarsel-Powell told the paper, dismissing the possibility Sanders would win the nomination.

Sanders frequently praised Castro's Cuba during the Cold War, saying at various points he was "very excited and impressed by the Cuban Revolution," and that while Cuba wasn't "perfect," it "solved some very important problems."