Florida lawmakers representing the Cuban-American community expressed dismay at Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I., Vt.) praise of dictator Fidel Castro, but on Monday he accused them of having ulterior motives.
"All of the congresspeople you mentioned just so happen to be supporting other candidates, just accidentally, no doubt, coincidentally," Sanders told CNN anchor Chris Cuomo Monday night, after Cuomo pointed out Florida Democrats who found Sanders's comments offensive.
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Three Florida congresswomen criticized Sanders's praise of Castro's literacy program, saying his comments were "unacceptable" and "insulting." But Sanders doubled down during a CNN Town Hall, telling his version of the Cuban Revolution in which Castro started things off with an altruistic literacy program.
"He initiated a major literacy program. There was a lot of folks in Cuba who were illiterate, and he formed a literacy brigade," Sanders said. "They went out and they helped people learn to read and write. You know what? I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing."
Sanders said he has been critical of authoritarian regimes but then praised China for lifting "more people out of extreme poverty than any country in history."
"That is the truth. So, that is the fact. End of discussion," he said.
Cuomo pointed out that Democrats have been criticizing Sanders for overlooking Castro's oppression of his citizenry, including the denial of individual rights and the killing of dissidents.
Sanders stuck by his praise for the Castro regime's literacy program.
"The truth is the truth," he said. "And that's what happened in the first years of the Castro regime."