We fight Bernie Sanders’ praise for Fidel Castro with truth, not censure in Congress | Opinion

For part two (or is it three, now?) of the saga “Bernie Sanders Exalts the Silver Lining of Repression in Cuba,” cue in partisan Miami politics of exile.

Everybody, to your corner!

Here comes one of our illustrious leaders, Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, a relative by marriage of the late Fidel Castro, with a resolution to condemn Sanders in Congress for his political beliefs.

In trademark fashion, Diaz-Balart announces his intention in a press conference with House Republicans, speaking with euphoric urgency, and wags his finger, very Fidel-like. He urges his followers on Twitter: Watch for my speech on the House floor!

El congresista Mario Díaz-Balart, representante por el Distrito 25 de la Florida en el Congreso de Estados Unidos.
El congresista Mario Díaz-Balart, representante por el Distrito 25 de la Florida en el Congreso de Estados Unidos.

It’s all a show with the purpose of playing to the home base in Hialeah-Miami Lakes — and putting his Democratic colleagues Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell up against the wall when it comes to an official censure of a colleague who happens to be the early Democratic front-runner for the presidential nomination.

But the joke is on him.

Shalala and Mucarsel-Powell, who face old and new GOP challengers in November, have both harshly criticized Sanders for his praise of Castro and Cuba’s education system in last Sunday’s “60 Minutes” interview.

“I’m hoping that in the future, Sen. 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,” Shalala said.

The congresswomen have nothing to prove to Diaz-Balart.

They called his bluff, sat out the vote Thursday — and Diaz-Balart’s resolution failed.

Diaz-Balart’s anti-Sanders amendment fails, but that doesn’t mean Democrats oppose it

Apologist for dictatorship

It’s not that Sanders doesn’t deserve the scolding. He certainly has earned the criticism.

He has been twice presented on a silver platter the opportunity to clarify his fondness for Fidel Castro before national audiences — and all he has done is double-down on a position that is factually and morally wrong, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum.

“Authoritarianism of any stripe is bad, but that is different than saying that governments occasionally do things that are good,” Sanders said during Tuesday’s debate in South Carolina.

“Occasionally, it might be a good idea to be honest about American foreign policy,” he added. “And that includes the fact that America has overthrown governments all over the world, in Chile, in Guatemala, in Iran — and when dictatorships, whether it’s the Chinese or the Cubans, do something good, you acknowledge that.”

Apologists for dictatorships want you to see the silver lining to the repression.

Their kind of ideological totalitarianism, of course.

You don’t hear the Sanderses of the world using as a positive talking point that the economy in Chile under ruthless Pinochet was great.

It’s wrong on both counts, particularly so from the privileged mouth of free people who don’t really know what it’s like to live under totalitarian rule.

But, by the same token, don’t we have higher democratic principles to uphold here for the Cuba we want to democratize, Congressman Diaz-Balart?

Isn’t official censure of opponents for their political beliefs what Fidel Castro would do? What the regime still does?

There’s a famous historic photograph of the comandantes who fought in the revolution that over time has lost figures as those who later opposed Castro were jailed or sought exile and were edited out, erased.

In your frenetic quest to score points for the GOP, you missed an opportunity to teach by example.

We don’t need to erase Bernie Sanders.

We debate him.

We vote against him at the ballot box.

We tell our truths about Cuba with facts and testimony.

I went to school in Cuba under Castro. Here’s what it’s like, Bernie Sanders | Opinion

Castro’s “literacy program” indoctrinates children with ideological messaging, militarizes textbooks, and punishes opponents to this day. What Sanders praises about it, the alphabetization of people in rural areas, was already under way when Castro came to power, with a Cuba ranked fourth in Latin America with a literacy rate of 76% in 1959, according to United Nations statistics.

Castro intensified alphabetization in 1961 as he was consolidating power, eradicating the free press, muzzling artists, and nationalizing wealth and lands. The literacy campaign was successful, and people passed literacy tests that indicated a 23% growth.

But, as Cuban artist Tanya Bruguera told the New Yorker: “Yes, they taught us to read and write. And then they forbade us to read what we want and write what we think.”

Yet, if Sanders and his supporters still want to believe that there’s something good about a 61-year dictatorship that bans books and people, it’s their prerogative in this still free country.

Diaz-Balart’s grandstanding resolution condemning Bernie Sanders in Congress is the classic example of how right-wing Cuban Americans hurt their own cause by playing partisan politics at every turn.

When our politicians use Cuba for partisan political gain, they hurt the cause of democracy, here and there.