Pulitzer Prize-winning Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago pulled no punches this week in an open letter to 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
A Cuban immigrant and longtime Democratic voter, Santiago castigated the Vermont senator Tuesday for his unwillingness to distance himself from previous praise for ruthless revolutionary and communist dictator Fidel Castro.
The columnist’s own life story was, Santiago wrote, like that of many Floridians of Cuban descent, something of an “antidote to [Sanders’] cheap, propagandist talking points on” the supposed benefits of oppressive 20th-century socialist revolutions.
And she had the photographs to prove it.
Providing those very pictures — particularly a grade-school photo of herself seated before a revolutionary flag — Santiago wrote the senator about her early life in post-revolutionary Cuba.
The daughter of a schoolteacher and a middle-class man whose small-town business was confiscated by the Castro regime, Santiago was a social pariah. She and her brother were mistreated — even physically — by school officials for refusing to chant revolutionary slogans and wear the red scarf of the national communist youth group, at the behest of their parents.
Her family had seemingly lived under constant stress in the years they awaited safe passage to the United States.
Sanders’ support for socialist policy, however, would not allow him to be honest about such details, Santiago wrote. His “apparatchik views on Cuba” were, in her opinion, “as old and dated as the photos” provided alongside the letter.
“The least Florida Democrats looking forward to the primary in March deserve from the front-runner is lucidity, not more obfuscation,” she wrote. “But when you can’t even verbalize on ’60 Minutes’ how you’ll fund your signature healthcare project, pay for all that free college and child care you’re offering, what else can be expected on Cuba?”
Sanders made waves Sunday on CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” standing by claims he made in the 1980s defending Castro’s brutal rise to power — which resulted in the execution or mysterious disappearance of roughly 11,000 dissidents, according to The Wall Street Journal — as having generated some positive outcomes.
A key sticking point to this day for the radical left Vermont senator and self-described democratic socialist was an education program some believe began under the Castro regime and was responsible for a roughly 15 percent rise in reported literacy.
“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but, you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad,” Sanders told Anderson Cooper. “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?”