Bernie Sanders has stirred controversy after seemingly defending certain aspects of Fidel Castro’s Cuban revolution, saying he “opposed the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it's unfair to simply say everything is bad".
Speaking to CBS’ 60 Minutes, the Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate addressed past comments he made in apparent support of Cuba’s literacy programme, saying: “We're very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it's unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know?"
He added: “When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy programme. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?"
Republicans quickly slammed Mr Sanders’ comments, calling the partial defence “un-American” as a clip of the interview went viral and “Castro” began trending across social media.
Carlos Lopez-Cantera, the former Cuban-American lieutenant governor of Florida, wrote on Twitter: “Hey @BernieSanders, FYI everything is, was and will be bad about the Cuban revolution. Saying anything else, is un-American.”
Ana Navarro-Cardenas, a Republican strategist and political commentator, recalled how the Sandinistas “adopted” Cuba’s education model when she was a young girl in Nicaragua after the interview aired on Sunday night.
“The books/curriculum taught ideological indoctrination,” she wrote in a tweet. “Children had to recite communist, revolutionary, anti-American slogans. That’s how communist teach people to read and write.”
Throughout the 60 Minutes interview, Mr Sanders said he condemned Cuba’s government for imprisoning political dissidents, while adding that he strongly rejected despots.
He also defended his brand of democratic socialism from Donald Trump’s frequent attacks labelling Mr Sanders — who has gained a clear frontrunner status in the Democratic primaries — a communist.
“What democratic socialism is about is saying, ‘Let’s use the federal government to protect the interests of working families”, Mr Sanders said.
But Republicans latched onto the senator’s comments about Cuba’s literacy programme, with Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida, writing in a tweet: “Likely Dem nominee praised the supposed 'achievements' Castro regime.”
“And he's wrong about why people didn't overthrow Castro,” Mr Rubio, a Cuban American, wrote. “It’s not because ‘he educated their kids, gave them health care’ it‘s because his opponents were jailed, murdered or exiled.”
The comments were not likely to play well for Mr Sanders in places like Miami, the liberal news blog Palmer Report suggested, where a large demographic of Cuban American voters largely oppose Castro’s revolution.
The prominent: blog tweeted: “Wait, does he understand how badly this plays with Cuban-American voters? Is he trying to LOSE Florida? Who's Bernie going to praise next, Jack the Ripper?"
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