Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) said her characterization of the late Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, as “Comandante en Jefe” meaning supreme commander was not “toxic” in her home state of California.
Host Chuck Todd said, “Let me turn to this issue of Cuba. A lot of people have turned to this issue as they’ve dug in. You spent time there in the ’70s as a young activist working with a group called Venceremos Brigade building houses in Cuba. You have rejected the idea that you have celebrated the Castro regime. Do you look back on that and think that you were a bit naive.”
Bass said, “As any 19-year-old would be, sure. In my early 20s I went to Cuba to help the Cuban people to build houses, but over the last 20 years, Chuck, I have been working— One, I have always believed in bridging the divide between our two countries. Cuba is 90 miles away.”
She continued, “I know Castro’s regime has been a brutal regime. I know there’s no freedom of press and interest of association and when I went in my late teens and early 20s, you know, one of the things — one of the reasons was to build relations with the Americans that were there because there were over 100 young people that were there and all of us worked on different issues. Well, what’s interesting is we had the ability to come home any protest against our own government, but the Cuban people most certainly cannot do that. They couldn’t do it then, and they can’t do it now.”
Todd said, “You sound a lot tougher on Castro now than when you described him as Comandante en Jefe when he died, and you said something I found interesting. You didn’t quite realize how sensitive folks were in south Florida about this still. So I’m just curious, that you thought, well Californians wouldn’t mind that description, but it might offend Floridians. Forget that a minute, it still seemed as if you had a soft view of Castro if you will.”
Bass said, “Yeah, let me explain, too, because I think the use of the term Comandante en Jefe what I meant by that is clearly in Florida that was a term that is endearing to him. I didn’t see it that way. I was expressing condolences to the Cuban people, to the people in Cuba, not Cubans around the world. I don’t think that’s a toxic expression in California, but let me just say, Chuck, lesson learned. Wouldn’t do that again. I talked immediately to my colleagues from Florida and realized that that was something that just shouldn’t have been said.”
Todd pressed, “You said you were expressing condolences to the Cuban people. There’s many people who believe that the Castro regime, in general, was keeping them confined, was stifling their freedom, that actually getting rid of Castro might have been a celebration to some.”
Bass said, “Yeah, maybe, and the island, I think it’s slightly different because you know they certainly didn’t have the freedom and wouldn’t have the freedom to celebrate that. So I think that it is just very important the way the Obama administration had opened up relations with Cuba.”
Bass is being vetted as a possible running mate for Democratic presidential nominee former Vice President Joe Biden.
Follow Pam Key on Twitter @pamkeyNEN