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Sanders' Cuba Remarks Touch A Raw Nerve In South Florida — With Moderates, Too

Matt Rourke
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont campaigning in South Carolina this week.

Democratic presidential front-runner Bernie Sanders has upset Cubans in South Florida with his recent remarks praising Fidel Castro. But it’s not just conservative Cuban Americans who are dismayed by Sanders’ rhetoric.

On CBS' "60 Minutes"Sunday night, the senator from Vermont did assert he was "very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba. But you know," he continued, "it's unfair to simply say everything is bad" — and that's when he went out of his way to applaud the late dictator Fidel Castro for his oppressive revolution's efforts in areas like education.

That, and the fact that Sanders has defiantly doubled down on his remarks since then, has sparked outcry in South Florida — not just among hardline Cuban exiles, but moderates as well.

“That triggers wounds that have molded Cuban-American identities for decades, regardless of party affiliation," says Ric Herrero, a Democrat and Miami-born Cuban attorney who is executive director of the Cuba Study Group in Washington, D.C.

"That’s his introduction to the community, and it comes across as completely tin-eared and insensitive to the pain and suffering of Cuban exiles.”

Many moderate Cuban Americans like Herrero are critical of Sanders’ often apologetic stance on authoritarian socialist regimes like Cuba and Venezuela. They fear it may harm Democrats’ chances against President Trump in Florida and elsewhere if Sanders is ultimately the presidential nominee.

“He’s forcing Hispanic Democratic voters and elected officials to immediately distance themselves from him less than a month before the Florida primary," Herrero said.

Sanders argues he’s doing well with Hispanic voters — who helped fuel his win in the Nevada primary last weekend. But others point out those were largely Mexican-American voters — not the Cuban and South American electorate he’ll need in Florida.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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