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‘Say Goodbye to Florida’: Bernie Sanders Torched for Equivocation Over Fidel Castro’s Cuba

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Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders set Twitter on fire with his comments about Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in a CBS News 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper that aired Sunday evening, with many critics opining that Sanders’ path to winning Florida just became more uphill.

Cooper played a video clip of Sanders from the 1980s discussing the Castro regime. “Here he is explaining why the Cuban people didn’t rise up and help the U.S. overthrow Cuban leader Fidel Castro,” said Cooper to introduce the video.

“He educated their kids, gave them health care, totally transformed the society, you know?” Sanders said in the clip.

Given a chance to respond, Sanders told Cooper:

We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, 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?

Cooper noted that there were “a lot of [political] dissidents imprisoned in Cuba.”

“That’s right,” said Sanders, “and we condemn that. Unlike Donald Trump, let’s be clear, you want to— I do not think that Kim Jong-un is a ‘good friend.’ I don’t trade love letters with a murdering dictator. Vladimir Putin, not a great friend of mine.”

Sanders’ qualifications of his remarks were insufficient to many critics, who pointed out this type of view was toxic among Cuban-American voters in Florida.

Many comments were in reply to a tweet by National Journal politics editor Josh Kraushaar, who described Sanders’ words as “go[ing] out of his way [to] praise elements of Castro’s reign of Cuba.”

“Say goodbye to Florida,” tweeted political strategist Rory Cooper, summing up the prevailing reaction.

National Review Editor Charles W. Cooke, himself a Florida resident, shared Kraushaar’s tweet with a sarcastic “Welcome to Florida,” as well as highlighting Sanders’ characterization of the Cuban Revolution — a bloody coup that culminated in thousands of Cubans executed after kangaroo-court trials, not to mention the countless journalists, dissidents, family members, and various innocent civilians who were killed, jailed, tortured, or disappeared in the years since — as Castro passively “com[ing] into office.”

The criticism wasn’t just coming from the right. Fernand Amandi, a liberal political consultant and commentator, posted video of Sanders’ remarks and warned his fellow Democrats that “nominating this man will absolutely re-elect” Trump.

Donna Shalala, the former Clinton Secretary of Health and Human Services and current Democratic Congresswoman representing Miami, expressed her exasperation at Sanders’s comments, which she equated to singing “the praises of a murderous tyrant.”

Miami Herald political reporter David Smiley called Sanders’ remarks “the sound of Bernie’s Latino voter wave crashing on the shores of Miami.”

Other Twitter users like @ReaganBattalion posted additional clips of Sanders praising Castro and the Cuban Revolution.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, also a former Democratic presidential hopeful, found out exactly how hot anti-Castro sentiment still burns in Miami last summer, when he quoted Che Guevara at a rally of striking airport union workers. After scorching responses from both the right and left, de Blasio apologized, claiming he didn’t know the phrase was associated with Guevara.

UPDATE: Both of Sanders’ Republican Cuban-American Senate colleagues have now weighed in — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz slammed him in tweets posted Sunday evening.

Rubio dismissed Castro’s “supposed achievements” that Sanders had cited, pointing out that Cubans didn’t overthrow the Castro regime not because they were so pleased with the education and health care he provided, but because the dictator’s opponents “were jailed, murdered, or exiled.”

Cruz was more blunt:

Watch the video above, via CBS News.

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