House Democrats Block Condemnation of Bernie Sanders, Cuban Firing Squads

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during First in the South Dinner, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-FL) presented a resolution in the House of Representatives on Thursday to condemn Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for praising Cuban dictator Fidel Castro on multiple occasions this week.

Democrats in the House blocked voting on the resolution on Thursday afternoon.

Díaz-Balart said in a statement on the House floor that his Florida constituency includes “thousands of former political prisoners,” many of whom endured decades of torture and abuse in Castro’s prisons. He said that many others in Florida who did not experience being imprisoned for supporting democracy are relatives of those still in prison today. In his statement Díaz-Balart noted, in particular, the ongoing torture of José Daniel Ferrer, the head of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), and the repeated arrests of dissidents such as Dr. Óscar Elias Biscet, a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.

“Unfortunately, this is not new coming from the progressive movement,” Díaz-Balart said of Sanders’ comments. “The Castro regime is not only a threat to the national security interests of the United States, but also to the democracies in our hemisphere. I want to remind sen sanders of the Cuban regime’s close relationship with some of the world’s worst thugs,” including Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, and China.

The resolution specifically condemned “the use of firing squads, imprisonment, torture, and acts of repudiation to suppress dissent in totalitarian Cuba, as well as the forced communist indoctrination policies carried out by the Castro dictatorship in Cuba,” in addition to Sanders’ support for the regime.

It also supported Cuban dissidents campaigning for democracy and called for “democratic government, liberation of all political prisoners, freedom of belief and expression, and the respect of all basic human rights for the Cuban people.”

The resolution condemned Sanders for his remarks “disregarding the history of systemic human rights abuses, forced indoctrination, and authoritarian actions of the literacy and education policies of the communist Castro dictatorship in Cuba.”

At press time, the House has yet to vote to pass the resolution. Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL), also from a district heavily populated by Cuban-Americans, appeared however to support the content of the resolution, suggesting some bipartisan agreement. Yet by preventing the vote, Democrats did not allow Shalala – or other potential supporters of the move, like Cuban-American Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ), from having to support the vote (and oppose the party) or reject the vote (and disappoint their large Cuban-American constituencies).

Sanders has spent much of the week defending Fidel Castro, both in televised interviews and on the stage of the Democrat Party’s tenth primary debate on Tuesday. On Sunday, Sanders told 60 Minutes that he considered blanket condemnation of the murderous Castro regime “unfair.”

“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?” he asked.

The next day, Sanders told CNN that not only did the Castro regime deserve praise, but so did China – which is currently imprisoning millions of Muslims in modern-day concentration camps and regularly uses political prisoners for live organ harvesting.

“[W]hen Fidel Castro first came to power … he initiated a major literacy program. There [were] a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate, and he formed a literacy brigade,” Sanders said. “China is an authoritarian country, becoming more and more authoritarian. But can anyone deny — I mean, the facts are clear, that they have taken more people out of extreme poverty than any country in history.”

His remarks defending autocratic communist regimes arose during Tuesday’s debate and Sanders used the opportunity to once again defend violent authoritarianism.

“When dictatorships, whether it is the Chinese or the Cubans, do something good, you acknowledge that,” he insisted as the crowd booed.

Sanders’ remarks have outraged the greater Cuban exile community. In a letter published Tuesday, four former political prisoners – who spent a combined 81 years in Castro’s prisons for their beliefs – published a letter to Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez condemning Sanders and highlighting the realities of pre-Castro Cuba, including its already sky-high 87 percent literacy rate.

“We are not the only ones hurt by Sanders’ words. The Democrat Party that you preside over is also hurt when the truth is distorted so blatantly as Mr. Sanders, a presidential candidate of your party, has done. We would like to hear his apology, but do not expect it. Socialists are usually arrogant,” the writers wrote.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


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