Bernie’s blunder may hurt support in South Florida

Democratic contender states about Cuba: ‘Unfair to say everything is bad.’

MIAMI, Fla. – It isn’t the first time that Senator Sanders has talked positively about the Cuban system or Fidel Castro, but it is the first time that he has done it as the top contender for the Democratic Party.

Sunday night on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Sanders had this to say. “We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but you know you’ve’s unfair to say everything is bad. When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did. He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing?”

These are words that many say will likely have political repercussions and come back to haunt Sanders, especially in South Florida.

Democratic Strategist Fernand Amandi said he was horrified at Sanders’ comments.

“It’s a nightmare scenario for Democrats who understand the importance of defeating Donald Trump.”

Amandi said such comments jeopardizes Democrats chances of winning Florida and its 29 electoral votes. While Sanders’ comments are not new, Amandi said Sanders had a chance to renounce the Cuban regime.

"It would be akin to suggesting there was value in the Third Reich because Hitler built the Autobahn and the Volkswagen automobile. There is nothing to praise about a totalitarian regime in Cuba that jails its political opponents, that harrasses its citizens, that stifles free speech and free elections.”

Amandi, the managing partner of Bendixen and Amandi, a multilingual and multi-ethnic public opinion research and strategic communications consulting firm in Miami, thinks Sanders should issue a total repudiation and should denounce publicly the Cuban system.

Historians are quick to point out that Castro was not elected into office, and that he used force to thrust himself into power.

Andy Gomez, a retired University of Miami professor and expert on Cuba, has books and pictures that he said prove children in Cuba continue to be indoctrinated even to this day.

“Fidel, as smart as he was, in his own narcissistic personality, uses that high level of literacy already in Cuba to begin an education process at all levels to indoctrinate the children,” said Gomez.

Congresswoman Donna Shalala (FL-27) posted on social media: “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.”

Congresswoman Debbie Murcasel-Powell (FL-26) posted that “Senator Bernie Sanders’ comments on Castro’s Cuba are absolutely unacceptable.”

The Florida primary is March 17; already more than 600,000 Floridians have voted.

About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

Michelle F. Solomon is the podcast producer/reporter/host of Local 10's original, true-crime podcast The Florida Files and a digital journalist for Local