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Sanders gets bipartisan backlash for saying 'unfair' to call all Castro policies 'bad'

Campaign says Democrat frontrunner simply 'echoing President Obama's acknowledgment that Cuba made progress'

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Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking at a February campaign event in Texas
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking at a February campaign event in Texas
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Updated: February 24, 2020 - 6:42pm

Democrat presidential frontrunner Sen. Bernie Sanders is facing bipartisan backlash for recent comments sympathetic to former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s policies and seeming to admonish those who disagree.

“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba,” Sanders, a democratic socialist, said in remarks aired Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” "It’s unfair to simply say everything is bad."

The Vermont Independent, who’s running on the Democratic ticket, was immediately blasted for his remarks by Republicans and Democrats — including his rivals for the party nomination.

"We need a president who will be extremely clear in standing against regimes that violate human rights abroad," tweeted former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, a rival for the nomination. "We can't risk nominating someone who doesn't recognize this."

The campaign for former Vice President Joe Biden, also competing for the Democratic nomination, took issue with Sanders’ comments, too.

"Bernie Sanders' comments on Fidel Castro are a part of a larger pattern throughout his life to embrace autocratic leaders and governments," a campaign adviser tweeted. "His admiration for elements of Castro's dictatorship or at least willingness to look past Cuba’s human rights violations, is not just dangerous, it is deeply offensive."

Biden, like Buttigieg, is running as a moderate, compared to Sanders, whose policies, including free education and health care, appeal to the Democratic Party’s most liberal wing. 

Sanders on the show Sunday stated his opposition to the authoritarian nature of the Cuban regime, including dissidents still in prison, but also pointed to a literacy program that he said Castro implemented upon rising to power.

“Is that a bad thing, even though Fidel Castro did it?” he asked host Anderson Cooper.

The Sanders campaign responded Monday to the criticism.

"Sen. Sanders has clearly and consistently criticized Fidel Castro's authoritarianism and condemned his human rights abuses, and he's simply echoing President Obama's acknowledgment that Cuba made progress, especially in education," Sanders communication director Mike Casca told reporters.

Among those also upset by Sanders’ comment are the thousands of Americans who fled Cuba and Castro’s oppressive regime for Florida, New Jersey and elsewhere in the United States. 

“The central promise every Marxist makes is that if we give up some of our individual freedom, the state will provide us more “security” like free health care & education,” tweeted Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, whose parents immigrated from Cuba. “But ultimately Marxism fails to deliver “security” & you don’t have the freedom to do anything about it."

Sanders on Saturday decisively won the Nevada caucuses and had top finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. A strong showing in South Carolina this weekend and on Super Tuesday, on March 3, could give him a potentially insurmountable delegate lead.